The problems of lower-income homeowners are likely to grow worse in the 21st century, according to a new report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

Homeowners at or near the poverty level spend more than half of their incomes on housing-related expenses, including meeting mortgage payments and real estate taxes, the report said.

With the government offering little assistance, the burden of solving the problem is falling to the private sector and assorted nonprofit groups, the report concluded.

The number of lower-income homeowners is expected to grow to 28.5 million in 2010 from 22 million in 1995, according to the report. With this growth, home repair and improvement needs will exceed government aid and private-sector assistance.

Lower-income homeowners cannot afford basic upkeep of their homes or the renovations necessary to accommodate elderly or disabled members of a family, the report said.

The "banker's rule-of-thumb" says buyers should spend less than 30% of their income on housing. Almost 10 million lower-income homeowners spend more than that, and over half spend more than 50%, the report said.

It also found that the vast majority of homeowners with incomes that were less than 30% of the median for their area were spending more than the suggested 30% of income.

With low-income homeowners unable to make home repairs because of financial constraints, more than 1.7 million live in "physically inadequate units" and over 500,000 live in "severely inadequate" homes.

Typical lower-income owners are elderly, disabled, or are single parents. Four and a half million homeowners are elderly people living alone and 80% of them are women, the report said.

There are 3.7 million households with a disabled person, accounting for 17% of all lower-income households. Many of these homeowners do not have the funds necessary to build wheelchair ramps, wider doorways, or modified bathrooms.

Single-parent homeowners account for 8% of all owners with lower incomes.

And minority households, particularly African-American and Hispanic owners, are overrepresented in the group, according to the report.

But new groups of immigrants from Asia and Latin America are expected to change the landscape of lower-income homeowners as they settle in the United States and purchase homes.

While lower-income homeowners are located throughout the United States, they are primarily in the South and Midwest. More than half of all lower- income renters live in cities but only 25% of lower-income homeowners do, the report said.

It noted that "the government has funneled billions of dollars into helping people buy homes, but comparatively little into helping owners maintain, repair, and renovate their homes."

The study was done for the volunteer organization Christmas in April, which assists needy homeowners.

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