Commonly Used Terms & Definitions  

Consensus on a “common language” to describe diverse indicators of housing instability will help to facilitate dialogue and promote collaboration and coordination across diverse sectors. Partnering for Change is currently using the following terminology: severe rent burden, overcrowding, poor housing quality, residential displacement, and homelessness.  The following terms and definitions represent an effort to develop a “common language” and have been adapted from various federal guidelines, research and policy papers, and practice in the field. 

Severe Rent Burden 

  • HUD defines affordable as spending 30% of income on housing-related expenses
  • Households spending 50% or more of their income on housing-related expenses
  • Households spending 70% or more of their income on housing-related expenses is increasingly


  • More than one person per room, excluding bathrooms (HUD)
  • No less than 165 square feet per person (HUD)
  • More people living within a space than is considered tolerable from a safety & health perspective
  • Inter-generational overcrowding: Relatives living together in an extended family household (long-term or short-term)
  • Sub families overcrowding: Two separate family units living in the same household 
  • Paying for a bed(s) in a shared room with unrelated individuals or families.

Incumbent Residential Displacement

  • Frequent change of residence due to economic hardship or other stressors associated with housing instability
  • Current housing is temporary & no new destination has been identified
  • legal eviction is in process
  • Displacement resulting from gentrification


Poor Housing Quality – Chemical/Biological 

  • Poses health & safety hazards to residents
  • General dilapidation or improper maintenance
  • Cooking equipment & food storage not safe or functional
  • Infestation of cockroaches, bedbugs, termites, rodents, and other vermin
  • Dampness of habitable rooms & visible mold growth
  • Deteriorated, crumbling, or loose plaster, including lead-based paint toxins from peeling paint

Poor Housing Quality Structural

  • Does not meet local building & safety codes
  • Lack of, or improper bathroom facilities, bathtub or shower
  • Lack of, or improper kitchen sink; lack of hot & cold running water to plumbing fixtures
  • Lack of adequate heating
  • Defective or deteriorated flooring, walls, windows, partitions or ceilings 

Homelessness  – HUD Definition

  • US Department of Housing & Urban Development
  • Living in a place not meant for human habitation
  • Living in a shelter or transitional housing program (including hotel vouchers)
  • Living in a motel or hotel with own funds
  • Living temporarily in another family’s house or apartment – eviction pending
  • Living in car, motor home, trailer, or campsite
  • Living in a garage, shed, or other space illegally converted to rental unit
  • No steady place to sleep at night – couch-surfing
  • Fleeing domestic violence

Homelessness Other Federal Definitions

  • The US Department of Educational definition adds the following:
  • Living in motel or hotel with own funds
  • Living temporarily in another family’s house or apartment (including relatives)
  • Sub family or shared housing situation that is temporary
  • Additional sub-definitions for specific populations

Anecdotal Indicators include:

  • Homeless cycles every 3-to-4 months
  • Arrears in rent and utilities
  • Landlord problems, unscrupulous landlords
  • Poor/bad credit, eviction history, or criminal record impact ability to rent
  • Doubling up, moving frequently

Extra difficulties: pregnancy, aging out of foster care, undocumented families, large families