Thursday, September 19, 2002

Wages not matching
rental prices

How Hawaii fares

By Eun-Kyung Kim
Associated Press

WASHINGTON >> Nowhere in the country can a minimum-wage employee afford to pay rent on a two-bedroom home, an advocacy group said yesterday. In three-quarters of the country -- including Hawaii -- even two full-time, minimum-wage jobs can't pay for such housing.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition, in its annual "Out of Reach" report, found that the average U.S. employee must make nearly three times the federal minimum wage, or about $14.66 an hour, to afford a modest two-bedroom rental and still pay for food and other basic needs. In Hawaii, a worker must earn $16.74 an hour, according to the report.

About one-third of the nation's households are renters, said the Washington-based advocacy group. In the four years since the coalition began its study, the gap between wages and rents has widened, both during times of economic expansion and recession.

"Even as the homeownership rate rises, access to good, affordable rental housing diminishes," the report said. "Eventually the number of people who succeed as renters will become so small that the pool of potential homeowners will evaporate."

Sheila Crowley, the coalition's president, said the problem of finding affordable housing is felt throughout the nation.

"Some places are worse than others, but nowhere is housing affordable," she said.

The coalition favors increased federal spending on affordable housing and raising the minimum wage to address the issue.

Last year, about 2.2 million workers earned the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour or less, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hawaii's minimum wage is $5.75.

Sen. Paul Sarbanes, the Maryland Democrat who chairs the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, called the lack of affordable housing a national crisis.

"When housing is unaffordable, families are forced to double or triple up, crowding into places meant for far fewer people. They live in substandard housing, or they must forgo other necessities," he said in a statement. "Families should not have to choose between rent and food, or rent and medications."

The coalition's study is based on the Department of Housing and Urban Development's determinations of "fair market rent" in states, counties and metropolitan areas. Each jurisdiction's "housing wage" was then established by calculating how much a person would need to earn per hour to pay no more than 30 percent of income for those rents.

HUD considers housing affordable when it costs 30 percent or less of gross income.

The report found that 37 states had housing wages greater than twice the minimum wage; in nine states, but not Hawaii, the housing wage was three times the minimum wage.

The two-bedroom housing wages in the study ranged from $37.30 in Marin County, Calif., to $7.11 in parts of Alabama, and $5.94 in portions of Puerto.


Bottom line

Hourly wages, in dollars, a full-time worker must earn
to afford to rent a modest two-bedroom home:

State Wage

Mass. 21.14

New Jersey 18.85

California 19.69

D.C. 19.21

New York 18.24

Connecticut 17.03

Maryland 16.82

Hawaii 16.74

Alaska 16.19

Colorado 15.99

Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition

National Low Income Housing Coalition

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