Housing Affordability: Why Over 75% of Homes Are Too Expensive for Middle Class

Housing Affordability: Why Over 75% of Homes Are Too Expensive for Middle Class

The American dream of homeownership is becoming increasingly elusive for middle-class families across the United States. A startling new statistic reveals that, according to a recent report from the National Association of Realtors and Realtor.com, over 75% of homes on the market are now too expensive for middle-income buyers.

This highlights a growing crisis in housing affordability. This article delves into the factors contributing to this alarming trend and explores its implications for the future of homeownership in the United States.

The Current State of Housing Affordability

The housing market has reached a critical point where the majority of available homes are out of reach for middle-class Americans. Recent data shows that buyers earning up to $75,000 annually – typically considered middle-income – can only afford 23% of properties listed for sale in the US. This represents a dramatic shift from just five years ago, when approximately 50% of listings were considered affordable for this income group.

To put this in perspective, the median home price in the United States has skyrocketed by 37% since 2019, from $307,000 to $420,800. This has far outpaced wage growth during the same period.

This widening gap between home prices and incomes has created a situation where the traditional path to homeownership is becoming increasingly challenging for a significant portion of the population.

Supply Shortage: The Root of the Problem

At the heart of the affordability crisis lies a severe shortage of housing supply, particularly in the price range accessible to middle-income buyers. The market is currently missing an estimated 320,000 homes priced at or below $256,000, which is the maximum price a middle-income buyer earning up to $75,000 can typically afford. [1]

This shortage is not evenly distributed across the country. Some regions, such as certain metropolitan areas in Ohio, still offer a relatively more extensive inventory of affordable homes. However, cities like El Paso, Texas; Boise, Idaho; and Spokane, Washington, are facing acute shortages of affordable listings. This disparity highlights the complex nature of the housing crisis and the need for localized solutions.

The Impact of Rising Home Prices

The rapid appreciation of home values has been a critical driver of the affordability crisis. This surge, partly fueled by pandemic-related factors, has far outstripped wage growth, making it increasingly difficult for middle-class families to enter the housing market.

Experts predict that this trend of price appreciation is likely to continue until at least 2026, albeit potentially at a slower pace. This prolonged period of rising prices threatens to push homeownership further out of reach for many Americans, potentially altering the landscape of homeownership in the country.

High Mortgage Rates: A Double-Edged Sword

Adding to the affordability challenge are mortgage rates that have reached multi-decade highs. These elevated rates not only increase the cost of borrowing for potential buyers but also create a “lock-in effect” where current homeowners are reluctant to sell and lose their lower mortgage rates.

As of June 2024, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate has surpassed 7.50%, hovering around two-decade highs. This increase in rates significantly impacts monthly mortgage payments, further reducing the pool of homes that middle-income buyers can afford.

While some experts predict rates may ease to around 6% by the end of the year, they are likely to remain a substantial barrier to affordability in the near term.

The Wage Stagnation Problem

While housing costs have risen dramatically, incomes for low- and moderate-income workers have largely stagnated. This growing disparity between housing costs and wages is at the core of the affordability crisis.

The failure of wages to keep pace with the rising cost of living, particularly housing costs, has left many middle-class families struggling to save for down payments or qualify for mortgages on median-priced homes.

Addressing this wage stagnation is crucial to improving housing affordability. However, it requires broader economic policies and initiatives that go beyond the housing market itself.

Challenges in New Construction

The lack of affordable new construction exacerbates the supply shortage. For-profit developers generally don’t respond to the demand for housing among lower-income households because the rents and home prices they can afford are often too low to cover development and operation costs.

Additionally, regulatory barriers such as zoning laws, building regulations, and lengthy approval processes can increase development costs and reduce the overall supply of housing.

These factors combine to create a market where new construction tends to focus on higher-end properties, leaving a gap in affordable housing options.

The Role of Investors and Market Speculation

Real estate investors and speculators have played a significant role in driving up property prices, often outcompeting first-time homebuyers.

The influx of investment capital into the housing market has contributed to the rapid appreciation of home values, particularly in desirable areas.

This trend has made it increasingly difficult for middle-class families to compete in hot markets, where cash offers and above-asking-price bids have become commonplace.

Addressing the impact of investor activity on housing affordability may require policy interventions to level the playing field for individual homebuyers.

Urbanization and Its Effects on Housing Affordability

Population growth and concentration in urban areas have increased demand for housing in these locations, driving up prices. The trend towards urbanization has put additional pressure on already strained housing markets in many cities, making affordable options increasingly scarce.

This urban concentration of demand highlights the need for innovative approaches to creating affordable housing in high-demand areas, including policies that encourage higher-density development and mixed-income communities.

The Decline of Existing Affordable Housing

Gentrification and the conversion of affordable housing into luxury developments have further reduced the availability of affordable options in many areas. This trend not only decreases the supply of affordable homes but also displaces long-time residents from their communities.

Preserving existing affordable housing stock is crucial to maintaining housing options for middle-income families. This may require policies that incentivize the maintenance and renovation of existing affordable units rather than their conversion to higher-end properties.

Potential Solutions and Future Outlook

Addressing the housing affordability crisis will require a multifaceted approach. Experts recommend increasing the housing supply, particularly in the affordable range, implementing policies to curb speculation, and addressing wage stagnation.

Potential solutions include zoning reforms to allow for higher-density development, incentives for builders to create affordable housing, and programs to assist first-time homebuyers.

Some communities are also exploring innovative housing solutions such as tiny homes or 3D-printed houses to provide more affordable options.

While the current outlook may seem challenging, there is hope that concerted efforts at local, state, and federal levels can begin to address this crisis.

The future of housing affordability in America will depend on the ability of policymakers, developers, and communities to work together to create a more balanced and accessible housing market.


The fact that over 75% of homes are now too expensive for middle-class buyers represents a significant challenge to the American dream of homeownership. Addressing this crisis will require innovative solutions, policy changes, and a commitment to creating a housing market that works for all income levels. As the country moves forward, policymakers must prioritize affordable housing as a critical component of a healthy economy and strong society. [2]