Renting a modest two-bedroom apartment is inching further beyond the grasp of low-income workers across the country.
The housing wage—the hourly amount a full-time worker must earn to afford a decent two-bedroom apartment—has increased to $18.92 this year. That’s more than 2.5 times the federal minimum wage, reports the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) in its Out of Reach 2014 annual report, released yesterday.
The housing wage is a stunning 52 percent higher than it was in 2000.
In its 25th year, Out of Reach provides data for every jurisdiction in the country. It reveals that in no state can a full-time minimum-wage worker afford either a one- or two-bedroom rental unit at fair market rent.
For example, in Hawaii, the most expensive state for housing, a minimum-wage employee would have to labor 174 hours per week, 52 weeks per year to afford the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment. Put another way, a household in Hawaii would have to have 4.4 minimum-wage earners working 40 hours per week year-round to afford a two-bedroom apartment.
“One of the main points of Out of Reach in 1989 was to turn the conversation from some kind of theoretical conversation about those people who can’t afford housing to explain that those people are everyday working people who get up every day and go to a job. Some of them go to two or three jobs, and they still can’t afford the costs of a decent home in most American metropolitan areas,” says Barry Zigas, director of housing policy at the Consumer Federation of America and NLIHC president from 1984 to 1993. “That’s really the message of this report: Everyday people going to work every day cannot earn enough to pay what housing costs.”
According to Out of Reach 2014, the five most-expensive states (or similar jurisdictions) are:
- Hawaii, with a two-bedroom housing wage of $31.54;
- District of Columbia, $28.25;
- California, $26.04;
- Maryland, $24.94; and
- New Jersey, $24.92.
The five most-expensive counties are:
- Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties, in California, with a two-bedroom housing wage of $37.62;
- Honolulu County, Hawaii, $35.00; and
- Nantucket County, Mass., $34.60.
The five most-expensive metropolitan areas are:
- San Francisco, with a two-bedroom housing wage of $37.62;
- Honolulu, $35.00;
- San Jose, Calif., $31.71;
- Orange County, Calif., $31.62; and
- Nassau–Suffolk, N.Y., $31.02.
The national mean renter wage is $14.64 per hour this year. “While this figure is more than twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25, even those renters could not afford a modest one-bedroom apartment,” says Althea Arnold, NLIHC research analyst. Furthermore, Arnold adds, “the average renter would need to earn $4 more an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment.” According to the NLIHC, there are more than 40 million renter households, a 1.1 million increase over the previous year. One out of every four renter households is an extremely low-income household, and three in four of these renters spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs.
“We have to improve wages,” says Sheila Crowley, NLIHC president and CEO. “We have to improve income.”
Raising the minimum wage would help millions of low-income Americans, but it wouldn’t solve the nation’s affordable housing crisis, says Crowley.
The NLIHC says the strongest solution to closing the gap between affordable housing need and supply is the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF), which would provide communities with funds to build and rehabilitate affordable housing.
The NHTF was supposed to be funded through proceeds from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but that didn’t happen when the government-sponsored enterprises were taken over by the Federal Housing Finance Agency in 2008 and the contributions were suspended. The NLIHC continues to advocate for ways to fund the NHTF.
The Out of Reach report can be found at www.nlihc.org/oor/2014.