Shelter seems like a relatively basic concept: a roof over one's head, a place to lay your head at night.
But for so many Americans, the cost of housing is far out of reach.
About a quarter of all renter households across the country are spending more than half of their income on rent.
As such, millions of Americans are on waitlists for government housing assistance. But due to overwhelming demand, many of those waitlists have been closed.
Households that received assistance last year had waited more than two years on average, an ABC analysis of data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development found.
In dozens of counties, both urban and rural, the average wait times were over five years.
A lot can happen to a family in five years. Children are born, partners are found and jobs are lost.
More than six million Americans live in counties where wait times for public housing are longer than a decade.
As for Housing Choice Vouchers, more commonly known as Section 8 housing, experts estimate that only about three in five Section 8 recipients are able to find housing before their vouchers expire.
When it comes to public housing and vouchers, the Tri-State area has wait times approximately double the national average.
Tri-State area wait times for public housing
In New Jersey, Bergen County has the sixth-longest average wait time for public housing in the country at nearly 14 years.
Essex County has the seventh-longest average wait time for housing vouchers, at more than 11 years.
In New York City, many families are unable to access housing, even after waiting years for it. In 2018 and 2019, less than half of the 4,041 households that received vouchers were able to secure housing before their vouchers expired.
In Newark, more than 12,000 households are on the waitlist for public housing and vouchers.
Thousands in the Tri-State and millions more across the country are forced to ask themselves whether affordable housing is something they can afford to wait for.
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