The National Low Income Housing Coalition does an annual report titled Out of Reach. This report documents the significant gaps between renters’ wages and the cost of rental housing across the country. The report compares rents and wages nationally in every state, county, and metropolitan area in the United States.
Out of Reach uses the concept of a “housing wage,” or the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford a modest rental home while spending no more than 30% of their income on rent and other housing costs. The golden rule for housing affordability is to not spend more than 30% of your take-home pay on housing costs (rent, mortgage, utilities, property taxes, home/renters insurance).
Even before the pandemic struck, a quarter of all renters – and 71 percent of extremely low-income renters – were paying over half their incomes for housing, too often leaving them one emergency away from eviction. Today the persistent gap between renters’ incomes and the cost of housing continues. Many of our essential workers – grocery store employees, health care workers, transportation and warehouse delivery drivers, manufacturing employees, custodians at hospitals – have risked their lives during the pandemic but do not get paid enough to afford housing. Let’s add in the racial divide, and you will see that black and brown individuals are more likely to work at essential jobs that put their health at risk, they are more likely to be renters, and they have less wealth and income to cushion the economic blow than their white counterparts. Something is terribly wrong with this picture.
Out of Reach 2020 reported that the state housing wage for Illinois is $21.30 per hour. This means that to afford a 2-bedroom home without paying more than 30% of income on housing, the average renter must work 85 hours per week or 2.1 full-time jobs at minimum wage. Yeah….read that last line again. Lest you think it is just Illinois, in other states, a full-time worker needs to earn an hourly wage of $23.96 to afford a modest, 2-bedroom rental home in the United States.
Nationally there is a shortage of affordable rental housing, and unfortunately, market-rate rent is on the rise and not coming down anytime soon. I believe that folks are getting smarter and putting themselves in place for ownership, whether it’s for themselves or landlords to others. Despite the uptick in home sales today, there has never been a more urgent time to expand rental assistance and protect those who are facing housing insecurity. It is just a fact; if you are not making $23.96 per hour, you’re going to need a roommate, a spouse, another job, a side hustle, or a combination of them all to not struggle financially here in the U.S. Let’s not forget that proper money management also plays a large factor in this as well because those earning well over $23.96 per hour can still struggle due to poor money management behaviors. When we get it, we must know how to manage it too.
Additionally, we must fight for more federal housing programs that serve our lowest-income renters because it will be through these programs that will improve the lives of millions of workers and their families, as well as benefit our local communities.
To see what you need to earn while living in any state, visit https://reports.nilihc.org/oor
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