09/18/2020

Overcrowded California

In its decades of unprecedented population growth, California was a land of superlatives. Regrettably, the superlatives have changed from mostly positive to largely negative. For example, the latest Census Bureau Supplemental Poverty Estimates, indicated that California continues to have the highest poverty rate of any state, after adjustment for housing costs (Figure 1). Not even Mississippi can compete with that, sitting 3.6 percentage points lower. California metropolitan areas undoubtedly resemble this shameful performance, though the Census Bureau does not provide data below the state level.

It should not be surprising that this backdrop is accompanied by some of the highest rates of housing overcrowding in the nation, according to the latest American Community Survey data (2015). Overcrowding is estimated by the number of people living in a dwelling unit per room. That raises the critical question of what is a room? The American Community Survey gives the following instruction on how to count rooms:

“When counting the number of rooms in a home for the American Community Survey (ACS), please count rooms separated by built-in archways or walls that extend out at least 6 inches and go from floor to ceiling. Include only whole rooms used for living purposes, such as living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, finished recreation rooms, family rooms, enclosed porches suitable for year-round use, etc.

DO NOT count bathrooms, kitchenettes, strip or pullman kitchens, utility rooms, foyers, halls, open porches, balconies, unfinished attics, unfinished basements, or other unfinished space used for storage.”

Overcrowding is generally defined as a household having more than one person (of any age) per room in a dwelling unit. Severe overcrowding is more than 1.5 persons per room. A household is the people living in a housing unit, whether a detached house, an apartment, a mobile home or other.

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