In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent in Washington, full-time workers need to earn $30.46 per hour. This is Washington’s 2020 Housing Wage, revealed in a national report released earlier this week. The report, Out of Reach, was jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), a research and advocacy organization dedicated solely to achieving affordable and decent homes for the lowest income people, and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
This year, the organizations released the Out of Reach report during a time when the coronavirus has clearly illustrated that housing is healthcare. The mandate to “stay at home” was echoed by top officials across the country. However, according to the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, having a stable place to stay was out of reach for millions of people before the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, more than 7.7 million extremely low-income renters were spending more than half of their limited incomes on housing costs, sacrificing other necessities to do so. In Washington, 80% of the lowest income renters were already spending more than half their income on rent. The compounding of high job losses and the lack of access to proper healthcare and resources considerably depleted already limited resources and access.
In the past few months alone, millions of households have dealt with a decline in wages through layoffs, furloughs, or decreased work hours and many will struggle to afford their rents. There are no states, metropolitan areas, and ZIP codes in the country where renters can afford a home at Fair Market without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs. The severe shortage of affordable and available rental homes is still prevalent.
“Rents in Washington were out of reach for low-income people before the pandemic hit. COVID-19, job losses, and rent burden are all hitting Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities the hardest,” says Rachael Myers, Executive Director of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. “Without bold action from Congress and the state, thousands of people will lose their homes, homelessness will spike, and communities already struggling will be harmed the most. We have to tools to prevent this and our communities can’t wait any longer. We need action from our elected leaders now.”
The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour without an increase since 2009, not keeping pace with the high cost of rental housing. In no state, even those where the minimum wage has been set above the federal standard, can a minimum wage renter working a 40-hour work week afford a modest two-bedroom rental unit at the average fair market rent. Working at the minimum wage of $13.50 in Washington, a wage earner must have 1.8 full-time jobs or work 73 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment. To afford a two-bedroom apartment a person working for minimum wage must work 2.3 full-time job(s) or 90 hours per week. The typical renter in Washington earns $21.90 an hour, which is $2.84 less than the hourly wage needed to afford a modest 1 bedroom unit in Washington State. It’s $8.56 less than the housing wage for a 2 bedroom unit in Washington.
According to the report, the economic downturn spurred by the coronavirus further increased the risk of housing instability for millions of low-wage renters at a time when stable housing is vital. Millions of renters were one financial shock away from housing instability, and for many the pandemic and economic fallout is that shock.
“Housing is a basic human need, but millions of people in America can’t afford a safe, stable home.” said Diane Yentel, NLIHC president and CEO. “The harm and trauma of this enduring challenge is laid bare during COVID-19, when millions of people in America risk losing their homes during a pandemic. The lack of affordable homes for the lowest-income people is one of our country’s most urgent and solvable challenges, during and after COVID-19; we lack only the political courage to fund the solutions at the scale necessary. It’s time for Congress to act.”