Government Definitions of Poor Housing

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The U.S. Bureau of the Census and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development classify housing units according to whether the units have physical or structural deficiencies. A unit is classified as having "severe'' physical problems if it has one or more of the following five deficiencies:

  • It lacks hot or cold water or a flush toilet, or both a bathtub and a shower.
  • The heating equipment has broken down at least three times for six hours or more during the previous winter, resulting in the unit being uncomfortably cold for 24 hours or more.
  • It has no electricity, or it has exposed wiring and a room with no working wall outlet and had three blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers during the previous 90 days.
  • In public areas such as hallways and staircases, it has no working light fixtures and loose or missing railings and no elevator.
  • It has at least five basic maintenance problems such as water leaks, holes in the floors or ceilings, peeling paint or broken plaster, or evidence of rats during the previous 90 days.

A unit is classified as having "moderate'' physical problems if it does not have any of the severe problems, but has one or more of the following five deficiencies:

  • On at least three occasions in the past three months, all flush toilets were broken for at least six hours.
  • Unvented gas, oil, or kerosene heaters are its primary heating equipment.
  • It lacks a sink, refrigerator, or either burners or an oven.
  • It has three of the four hallway or staircase problems listed above.
  • It has at least three of the basic maintenance problems listed above.

SOURCE: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, based on HUD information.

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