Courtesy National Low Income Housing Coalition

The recent increases in rents are making it even harder for low-wage workers and low-income families to afford housing, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).

In its “Out of Reach 2022: The High Cost of Housing” report, the NLIHC highlights the mismatch between actual wages and what people need to earn to afford their housing costs. The annual report finds again this year that there is no county, metro area, or state where a person earning the federal or prevailing state or local minimum wage for a 40-hour work week can afford a modest two-bedroom rental home. These workers can only afford modest one-bedroom apartments in 9% of U.S. counties—274 out of more than 3,000 nationwide.

As part of its signature report, the NLIHC calculates a “housing wage” that is an estimate of the hourly wage full-time workers must earn to afford a rental home at the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) fair market rent (FMR) without spending more than 30% of their incomes.

Courtesy National Low Income Housing Coalition

This year’s national housing wage is $25.82, the amount a full-time worker must earn for a modest two-bedroom rental home at FMR, and $21.25 per hour for a one-bedroom home. Both are substantially higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. And even in the 30 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the over 50 counties and municipalities with minimum wages higher than the federal level, the average minimum-wage worker must work nearly 96 hours per week to affordable a two-bedroom rental home or 79 hours per week for a one-bedroom.

“Behind these numbers are real people, who despite working multiple jobs are struggling to make ends meet,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, in the report’s preface. “Housing is at the heart of a more just and prosperous nation—a nation where families and children of all backgrounds can dream about their futures, where seniors can age with dignity, and where people with disabilities can live independently.”

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Eleven of the 25 largest occupations in the nation pay a lower median hourly wage than what a full-time worker needs to earn for a modest one- or two-bedroom rental at the national average FMR, which is $1,105 and $1,342, respectively. The workers in these occupations include more than 35% of the total U.S. workforce, excluding farmworkers, according to the report.
  • Out of the 10 most expensive jurisdictions, seven in California make the list, topped by the San Francisco HMFA (HUD Metro FMR Area). Covering Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties, the housing wage for a two-bedroom apartment at FMR is $61.50. Neighboring Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties also are high on the list at $60.35 and $55.15, respectively.
  • Hawaii tops the list of most expensive states, coming in at $40.63 for a two-bedroom rental housing wage, followed by California at $39.01.
  • The least expensive states include Arkansas with a two-bedroom rental housing wage of $14.89, West Virginia at $15.38, Mississippi at $15.67, and South Dakota at $16.11.

The NLIHC calls for long-lasting structural changes to ensure that low-income Americans have stable affordable homes. The coalition urges Congress to invest in solutions to preserve and expand the nation’s affordable housing stock by expanding the National Housing Trust Fund and directly in the preservation of public housing. It also is encouraging Congress to increase resources for rental assistance through Housing Choice Vouchers as well as permanent solutions to combat evictions and homelessness when renters experience income loss or unexpected financial shocks as well as increased renter protections.

“A stronger housing safety net is required to prevent evictions and homelessness and to reduce housing instability among the lowest-income renters,” stated the report. “Addressing the roots of the housing affordability problem requires a sustained commitment to investing in new affordable housing and preserving affordable rental homes that already exist, bridging the gap between incomes and rent through universal rental assistance, providing emergency assistance to stabilize renters when they experience financial shocks, and establishing strong renter protections.”