Report: Housing costs remain 'Out of Reach' for low-wage workers

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Report: Housing costs remain 'Out of Reach' for low-wage workers

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 3:29pm -- tim

The Average Vermont Renter Faces a Significant Affordability Gap

Vermont Business Magazine In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent in Vermont, renters need to earn $23.40 per hour, or $48,664 annually. This is Vermont’s Housing Wage, revealed in the annual Out of Reach Report released last week by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), a research and advocacy organization. Vermont ranks 19th highest, with Hawaii was highest and Arkansas was lowest.

Each year, Out of Reach reports on the Housing Wage, the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford rent and utilities for a safe, modest home in the private housing market without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs. 

The report highlights the gap between what renters earn and what it costs to afford to rent at fair market value. In Vermont, the average renter earns $16.47 per hour, which is nearly $7 less than the housing wage for a modest two bedroom. This average renter can afford to pay $856 a month for their housing costs, while the average statewide Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom is $1,217.

"We're all hearing stories from friends and relatives about the skyrocketing costs of for sale homes and rental apartments being snapped up within minutes of being listed,” said Michelle Kersey, Chair of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition Steering Committee. “And the impact on Vermont's economy is evident - restaurants, retailers, and local businesses are struggling to hire staff because potential employees can't find suitable housing close to work.”

Vermont’s most expensive region is the Burlington metropolitan area, which has a housing wage of $28.85, well above the state’s average. The state’s nonmetropolitan areas have a combined housing wage of $19.93. While this falls below the state’s average, it ranks as the ninth highest nonmetropolitan housing wage across the nation. 

“Every Vermonter deserves a safe, decent and affordable place to call home, yet for too many Vermont renters finding an apartment that they can afford has become an impossible task,” says Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Out of Reach Report shows us once again how the average wage of Vermont’s renters has not kept pace with rent increases. As Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I am committed to doubling down on our investments in housing to close the gap between what renters can afford and the cost of a home. For our state to thrive, everyone must have a place to live.”

The federal minimum wage has remained stagnant at $7.25 since 2009, despite the rising costs of housing nationally. In stark contrast, the national Housing Wage in 2022 is $25.92 for a two-bedroom home, or $21.25 for a one-bedroom home. The Housing Wage varies by state and metropolitan area, but in no state can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a modest two-bedroom rental home — even in states where the minimum wage has been set above the federal standard.

“Unfortunately, I hear stories too often of people getting squeezed between stagnating wages and the ever-increasing cost of living,” says Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). “In Vermont, a minimum wage worker has to work 75 hours a week in order to afford a 2-bedroom rental apartment. Unacceptable. Decent, safe, and affordable housing is a basic human right. We must address this crisis.” 

Vermont’s minimum wage has increased annually over the last several years, but it has not done enough to address housing affordability. At Vermont’s minimum wage of $12.55, an individual must work 59 hours per week, or the equivalent of 1.5 full-time jobs, to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment, and 75 hours per week, or 1.9 full-time jobs, to afford a 2-bedroom rental. 

“Vermont’s housing advocates are working to shine a light on a pressing challenge for Vermonters: we have far too little affordable housing, and it’s hitting working families hard,” says Representative Peter Welch (D-VT). “This report offers essential insight into the affordability gap. We must put that insight into action. I’ll keep fighting in Congress for more investments in affordable housing to eliminate the affordability gap and get Vermont families the help they need.”

NLIHC’s Out of Reach report illustrates a significant housing crisis in Vermont that demands immediate action. With Vermont’s housing wage higher than is affordable by average renters, people end up working long hours or paying more than 30% of their income. Spending large portions of paychecks on rent, Vermonters are often unable to afford other necessities, like childcare, healthcare, and transportation. Low-wage workers are also often one missed paycheck or emergency away from being unable to afford their rent. 

"The numbers in the Out of Reach report are helpful because it gives us a clear look at the realities that are so often discussed in an anecdotal way,” says David Martins, Director of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition. “We know things are 'just too expensive', but this gives us a way to see just how expensive they really are! It is also a poignant reminder of the intersectional nature of our housing crisis. We talk a lot about investments in the solution, but they are just that: investments. An investment is only a beginning - a necessary beginning, but only a beginning - to the work that needs to be done."

VAHC applauds Governor Scott and the Vermont legislature for the historic funding allocations seen during the 2022 legislative session. These allocations are a critical step in addressing the housing needs of the state and bridging the affordability gap highlighted by the Out of Reach Report. It is imperative that the state continues to work together to create a reality in which all Vermonters can afford to live in safe, affordable homes.

The full report is available at https://www.nlihc.org/oor/state/vt. Additional findings from Out of Reach:

  1. The 2022 national Housing Wage is $25.92 for a two-bedroom, an increase from 2021’s national Housing Wage of $24.90.

  2. Nationally, 1 in 4 renter households have extremely low incomes, making most market rate units out of reach.

  3. Vermont has the 9th highest Housing Wage for nonmetropolitan (rural) areas.

  4. Vermont has the 19th highest Housing Wage in the nation for renters.

  5. The housing wage in the greater metropolitan area of Burlington is $28.85, a full $5.45 above the state average.

  6. Someone with a disability living on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in Vermont can only afford $268 a month, leaving them $949 short for a two-bedroom rental at Fair Market Rent and $697 short for a one-bedroom rental.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) is dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that ensures people with the lowest incomes in the United States have affordable and decent homes. www.nlihc.org 

The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition (VAHC) is a statewide membership organization dedicated to ensuring that all Vermonters have safe, adequate, physically accessible and affordable housing. www.vtaffordablehousing.org