There is a big mismatch between the cost of housing and the wages people earn across the country.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) again puts this dilemma into focus in its annual “Out of Reach” report, which estimates how much a household needs to earn to afford rent and utilities on a modest two-bedroom apartment without spending more than 30 percent of its income on housing costs. These calculations determine a “housing wage.”
According to the report, the national 2012 housing wage is $18.25, outpacing the $14.15 hourly pay actually earned by renters, on average nationally, and nearly three times the $7.25 federal minimum wage.
“Out of Reach” shows that the need for affordable housing cuts across all areas of the country. There’s not a single state where an individual can work full-time at a minimum wage and afford a two-bedroom apartment for his or her family. There are only a few places where a one-bedroom unit at fair market rent is affordable to a minimum-wage worker.
“The gap between the housing wage and the average renter wage is an indicator of the magnitude of need for more affordable rental units,” said the NLIHC in its signature report. “In 2012, in 86 percent of counties studied nationwide, the housing wage exceeds the average hourly wage earned by renters.”
The study underscores the need for more affordable housing, especially among extremely low-income households, those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income. Among this group, there are roughly 8 million individuals who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because they are elderly, blind, or disabled and have few economic resources. “With the maximum federally monthly payment of $698 in 2012, ‘Out of Reach’ estimates that an SSI recipient can afford rent of only $209,” said the report.
Nationally, the housing wage is highest in Hawaii, where the high price of land and building materials drives up development costs. The housing wage for a two-bedroom apartment in Hawaii is $31.68. That’s followed by the District of Columbia, $28.96, and California, $26.02.
To put it in perspective, a two-person household in Hawaii that works full-time at minimum wage would have to hold 4.4 jobs.
The five most expensive metro areas in the United States and their housing wages are
San Francisco, $36.63; Stamford-Norwalk, Conn., $34.02; Honolulu, $33.98; Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y., $32.35; and Orange County, Calif., $31.77.
These are areas where there is a strong need for additional affordable housing.
For instance, according to San Francisco’s general plan, “affordable housing is the most salient housing issue in San Francisco and the Bay Area.”
The Association of Bay Area Governments projects that at least 39 percent of new housing demands will be from low- and very low-income households (those earning under 80 percent of the area median income) and another 22 percent affordable from households earning between 80 percent and 120 percent of the AMI.
About 12 percent of San Francisco’s 805,000 population lives below the poverty line.
In February, NLIHC reported that there is not a single state in the nation with an adequate supply of affordable and available rental housing. There is a shortage of about 6.8 million rental units, meaning that only 30 rental homes are affordable and available for every 100 extremely low-income renters.
Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin have less than the national level of rental homes affordable and available to extremely low-income people.
For more information, visit www.nlihc.org.