Millions of low-wage renters were struggling to afford their homes prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic downturn of 2020 has made the struggle even more challenging for many Americans, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).
Highlighting the mismatch between the wages Americans earn and the price of decent rental housing, NLIHC’s annual report, “Out of Reach 2021: The High Cost of Housing,” finds that there is no county, metro area, or state where a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford a modest two-bedroom rental home. These workers can only afford modest one-bedroom apartments in 7% of U.S. counties—218 out of more than 3,000 nationwide.
As part of the 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 fair market rent without spending more than 30% of their incomes.
This year’s national housing wage is $24.90, the amount a full-time worker must earn for a modest two-bedroom rental home at fair market rent, and $20.40 per hour for a one-bedroom home. Both are substantially higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. And in the states and counties with higher minimum wages, the average minimum-wage worker must work nearly 97 hours per week to affordable a two-bedroom rental home or 79 hours per week for a one-bedroom.
According to the report, minimum-wage workers aren’t the only ones struggling to afford rent. The average renter’s hourly wage is $18.78, $6.12 less than the two-bedroom housing wage and $1.62 less than the one-bedroom housing wage. The average renter must work 53 hours per week to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.
Eleven of the 20 largest occupations in the nation pay a lower median hourly wage than what a full-time worker needs to earn for a modest rental. The workers in these occupations include more than 36% of the total U.S. workforce, excluding farmworkers, according to the report.
The report also highlights that housing affordability is a racial justice issue. Black and Latino workers, who earn less than white workers, are more likely to spend more than 30% of their income on housing. While 25% of white households are cost-burdened, 41% of Latino households and 43% of Black households are cost-burdened.
“Housing is a basic human need and should be regarded an unconditional human right,” said NLIHC president and CEO Diane Yentel. “With the highest levels of job losses since the Great Depression and an ongoing global pandemic, low-income workers and communities of color were disproportionately harmed. The enduring problem of housing unaffordability requires bold investments in housing solutions that will ensure stability in the future. Without a significant federal intervention, housing will continue to be out of reach for millions of renters.”
NLIHC and its partners are calling on Congress to take urgent action to solve the housing affordability crisis, including expanding rental assistance to all eligible renters in need and making sustained investments in the National Housing Trust Fund and public housing to create, preserve, and rehab housing. They also urge Congress to create a permanent National Housing Stabilization Fund to provide temporary assistance for those at risk of eviction and to strengthen renter protections.