Business & Money

Affordable housing for low wage workers a remote dream

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jan 15, 2020 - 7:02:08 AM

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There is a significant gap between renters’ wages and the cost of rental housing across the United States. This leaves no minimum wage worker able to afford a rental home solely on their weekly earnings according to a report, Out of Reach.

The report’s central statistic—the housing wage—is an estimate of the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford a rental home at HUD’s (Department of Housing and Urban Development) fair market rent without spending more than 30 percent of his or her income on housing costs, the accepted standard for affordability. “Families across the Massachusetts 7th and beyond are being forced to make impossible choices between putting food on the table, paying for lifesaving medication or making rent. People are finding themselves one emergency away from eviction and even homelessness,” explained Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).

“In the richest nation on earth, how is it that three out of every four families eligible for housing assistance are turned away? This administration’s callous attempts to rollback funding for affordable housing and homelessness assistance programs has left more than half a million people without shelter on any given night. So long as there is a national housing shortage, the American Dream remains largely deferred,” said the freshman representative, one of four congresswomen dubbed, “The Squad.”

The report released last year by the National Low Income Housing Coalition details that the cost of a modest rental home is out of reach for low-wage workers and other extremely low-income renters. The report explains that in 2019 you had to earn an hourly wage of $22.96 to afford a modest two-bedroom rental home and $18.65 for a modest one-bedroom rental home. Those wages are very far from the minimum wage.

“Our rental housing needs have worsened considerably over the past 30 years. Cushing Dolbeare, National Low-Income Housing Coalition’s founder noted in the group’s first report, that housing assistance reached only one in three eligible households in the late-1980s. Today, housing assistance reaches fewer than one in four. The private market has lost more than 2.5 million low-cost rental units since 1990, and rent increases have significantly outpaced income growth and price increases for necessities like food and transportation,” explained Diane Yentel, president of National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“Wage inequality has worsened between Black and White workers at all wage levels, exacerbating the racial housing inequities that have long plagued the nation. Affordable rental housing for low-income people is significantly further out of reach now than in 1989, despite a massive increase in wealth for higher-income households,” she said.

According to the report, low wages, wage inequality, racial inequities and a severe shortage of affordable rental homes leave too many vulnerable people unable to afford their housing. Only four million rental homes are affordable and available to the nation’s eleven million extremely low-income renter households whose incomes are less than the poverty rate or 30 percent of their area median income, leaving a shortage of seven million rental homes.

“As Members of Congress, we must advance proactive solutions and mitigate the harm caused by this administration. I am proud to join Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Cedric Richmond as a cosponsor of the ‘American Housing and Economic Mobility Act’—legislation that would make historic investments through the national Housing Trust Fund to increase our nation’s housing supply and provide redress for decades of discriminatory policies like redlining,” wrote Rep. Pressley in the report.