Rental costs give Hawaii unenviable No. 1 spot
A two-bedroom unit now requires a yearly income of $46,400
Hawaii renters had to earn about $46,400 this year to afford a two-bedroom apartment -- nearly $10,000 more than in 2004, according to a new study that ranks the state as the most expensive for renters.
"This just brings validity to what we see as providers out in the community right now," said Laura Thielen, executive director of the state's Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance. "It's just crucial that we get our ranking a lot lower."
The National Low Income Housing Coalition report released Tuesday based its "housing wage" estimates on fair market rents and families spending no more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing and utilities -- a federal standard supported by housing experts.
California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York round out the top five most expensive states for renters, while West Virginia had the most affordable rents. Nationally, renters had to earn an average of about $32,800 a year to afford a two-bedroom unit, up by $853 from 2004.
The state's housing wage increase from last year is the largest ever for the islands. Previous years have seen more moderate wage jumps to cover two-bedroom rents, ranging from about $185 to $1,200.
Also, although Hawaii has been on the annual report's top 10 list for most expensive rents since 2000, it has never topped the nation.
Darlene Hein, program director for the Waikiki Health Center's homeless Care-A-Van program, said the report shows that the state's tight housing market is not just hurting low-income residents. It is leaving the middle class strapped, too.
"This has become a problem for the large percentage of people -- firefighters, social workers, teachers," Hein said. "If those who are working in grocery stores and selling cars can't afford a place, how can those in the lowest rung afford a place?"
Of the 10 jobs that employ the most people in the islands, six have average yearly wages of less than $24,000, according to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
Retail salespeople -- the biggest occupational population in Hawaii, with more than 22,000 residents -- earn an average of $22,050 a year.
Meanwhile, a family with two adults making minimum wage in the state takes in about $26,000 a year.
Thielen said that upping the state's inventory of affordable housing is the only way to lower fair-market rents.
"We just have a lack of housing across the board," she said. "We need a minimum of 18,000 units -- and that's not even touching the total number that we eventually need."
In January a state affordable housing task force released a report with a series of recommendations for state lawmakers, including providing incentives to landlords to "maintain affordable rentals," making public land available for affordable housing and streamlining the permit approval process for developers.
Thielen, who was on the task force, said progress has been made on the recommendations over the course of the year but that it is too early to tell if they have made a difference.
"We're seeing a lot of projects coming up on the board," she said. "My hope is that within the next two to three years, we have several hundred more units available."
She also said affordable housing projects need to be planned to make sure residents from different income brackets have their needs met.
"We can't just create housing for the lowest rung," she said. "It's really a combination -- making sure that we're addressing as many rungs of the economic ladder as possible."
The low-income housing coalition issues a report each year tracking rental costs in every state, along with Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
The study, which analyzed data from the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is available on the coalition's Web site at www.nlihc.org.
Here is a look at what a Hawaii family has had to earn since 2000 to afford a two-bedroom apartment. The estimate is based on 30 percent of a family's income going to rent and utilities.
Top 10 most expensive states for renters:
4. New Jersey
5. New York
8. Rhode Island
9. New Hampshire
Source: National Low-Income Housing Coalition