A new report shows that even before the coronavirus pandemic there is no place in the country where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a modest apartment. With millions already paying more than half of what they earn for rent, the Out of Reach 2020 annual report by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) shows that the economic crisis caused by the pandemic will put millions of low-income renters at risk of losing their homes.
NLIHC has published its Out of Reach report since 1989. The report collects data for every county and metropolitan area in the United States. It looks at how much a renter needs to earn so they can afford a modest apartment. It also shows how many hours a week someone earning minimum wage needs to work in order to make the rent.
The federal government says that people who pay more than 30% of their monthly income for housing are cost burdened. If you pay more than that for rent and utilities, it does not leave much for food, clothes, transportation or healthcare.
Out of Reach shows that there is no state, county or city in the country where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford HUD’s two-bedroom Fair Market Rent (FMR) for the area. In only 5% of counties can a minimum wage worker afford the one-bedroom FMR.
The report factors in the minimum wage that is used in each state or local jurisdiction. Although the federal minimum wage is $7.25, 29 states, the District of Columbia and some cities and counties have adopted higher minimum wages. For example, New Hampshire uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, but neighboring Vermont has a minimum wage of $10.78.
And what is the rent for a “modest apartment?” NLIHC uses the Fair Market Rent (FMR) that HUD sets for every city and county in the country. The FMR represents the 40th percentile of rents in a local market. That means that 40% of apartments in the area rent for that amount or less, so these are modest homes.
Without assistance, even HUD’s FMR is still higher than what most low-income renters can afford without assistance from the government. HUD’s two-bedroom FMR is unaffordable to 60% of all earners.
NLIHC says that a “housing wage” is the amount someone needs to earn while working a 40-hour week so that they can pay the rent without being cost burdened. Nationally, the average renter needs to make $23.96 an hour to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. The housing wage to afford a one-bedroom apartment is $19.56. This is way beyond what most low-income renters earn.
The average minimum wage worker would have to work 97 hours per week to afford the two-bedroom FMR, or 79 hours a week to cover the one-bedroom FMR. These figures show what drives many low-income renters to take two or more jobs so that they can make ends meet. It is also behind many families doubling up and crowding apartments so that they can share costs.
Prior to the pandemic, 71% of renters with extremely low incomes paid more than half their incomes for rent. This is over 7.7 million households. And before the pandemic, there was also a severe shortage of affordable housing. According to NLIHC’s The Gap 2020 report, there are only 36 affordable and available rental units for every 100 extremely low-income renters in the country.
Even renters with average incomes are having problems as rents continue rising faster than incomes. Out of Reach shows the average renter wage is $18.22, but this is still more than $5.00 below the national housing wage needed to pay for a modest two-bedroom apartment..
In addition to extremely low-income renters, the economic crisis caused by the pandemic is likely to hit minority communities hardest. Black and Latino households are more likely to be renters. While only 27% of white households rent their homes, 55% of Latino households and 59% of Black households are renters. And minority renters pay more of their income for housing. 44% of Black renters and 42% of Latino renters had housing cost burden, compared with 26% of white renters.
The report has summary sections for each state. Readers can look up every county and major metropolitan area in their states. This means you can find out how high the housing wage is in your area, or how many hours a minimum wage earner needs to work to pay the rent in your community. The summaries also include state averages and rankings.
Out of Reach shows how severe America’s affordable housing crisis is in every community. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, millions of low-income renters were cost-burdened or living in overcrowded conditions. Now that eviction protections are expiring around the country, millions of low-income renters will owe back rent. And with the federal unemployment boost ending this week, millions of low-income renters will have no way to pay the rent. Unless the federal government acts to halt all evictions and provide emergency rental assistance, it is likely we will see a wave of evictions in the next few months.