National Low Income Housing Coalition

The gap between wages and rents across the country continues to grow and will be an issue for years to come.

The 2018 national “housing wage” is $22.10 per hour to afford a modest two-bedroom rental home, an increase from $21.21 last year. For a modest one-bedroom apartment, the 2018 housing wage is $17.90, up from $17.14 last year, reports the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) in its new Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing report.

The housing wage is the estimated full-time hourly wage a household must earn to afford a decent rental home at fair market rents while spending no more than 30% of their income on housing costs.

“In no state, metro area, or county—even those where the minimum wage has been set above the federal level—can a minimum-wage worker working a 40-hour work week afford a modest two-bedroom rental unit,” said Diane Yentel, NLIHC president and CEO.

It’s become nearly impossible for low-wage workers to afford a place to live.

“Workers earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour—these are child-care workers, nurse’s assistants, emergency medical technicians, and others—would need to work 122 hours a week for 52 weeks of the year or three full-time jobs to afford a modest two-bedroom rental home, and they would have to work 99 hours a week or about two-and-a-half full-time jobs to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment,” she added.

Yentel pointed out that it’s not just minimum-wage workers who are struggling with rents. The average renter in the country earns enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment in just 11% of the nation’s counties.“This will be an issue for the foreseeable future,” she said in a call with reporters. “Seven of the 10 occupations projected to add the greatest number of new jobs by 2026 provide a median wage that’s less than the one-bedroom housing wage.” These jobs include medical assistants, personal-care aides, janitors, and waiters.

When families use most of their income on the first of the month for rent, they’re left wondering what kinds of food they’ll be able to afford for the rest of the month, said Ted Hicks, an affordable housing resident and board member of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing in Arlington, Va.

He spoke about the need for housing vouchers, grants, and other programs to assist renters. Keeping people in their home would be better for everyone than having more families on the street or caught in a cycle of moving from couch to couch, he said.

Out of Reach shows that the lack of decent housing that’s affordable to low-income people is pervasive, impacting every community across the country, Yentel said.

“The report really highlights the urgent need for an increased national investment in more homes affordable to the lowest-income people,” she said, noting that federal housing programs serve approximately 5 million households but the needs of many more families go unmet.

Although Congress has rejected many of cuts that the Trump administration has proposed to housing programs, more still needs to be done, urged Yentel.

“We don’t lack the data, the resources, or the solutions to solve the affordable housing crisis,” she said. “We lack only the political will to fund the solutions at the scale necessary, and ensuring that all families have a safe and stable place to call home by expanding the supply of affordable housing should be a public policy priority.”