High housing costs remain a drain for low-income families - Rentals, housing prices high statewide, national survey confirms.

Mark Porter, The Bellingham Herald

June 11, 2003

A national survey on kids' health and welfare released today shows poor families in Washington state paying substantially more for housing than the national average, mirroring a local trend that is only getting worse, according to housing advocates.

Statistics show 69 percent of low-income households statewide - the federal poverty level is $18,100 annually for a family of four - pay more than the recommended 30 percent of total income for housing, according to the 2003 Kids Count report.

Statewide improvement

Kids Count, a national survey on kids' health and welfare, showed that Washington state improved on seven of 10 measures that monitor the health of children between 1990 and 2000, including infant mortality rate, the teen birth rate and the percent of children in poverty.

Overall, Washington ranked 17th. Oregon ranked 23rd. Minnesota ranked first - a position it has held for three of the past four years.

A low-income family that spends too much on rent or a house payment would have a harder time making ends meet, foregoing health or car insurance and getting behind on utilities and car payments that put families at risk, according to children's advocates.

The report, put together by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation using 2000 data, doesn't take into account the high cost of housing in Washington state and the poor national economy the past two years, said Shari Hill, a spokeswoman for Washington Kids Count.

"I think that we are going to see continually growing need for the next several years," Hill said on Tuesday. "We were just beginning to face a few challenges in the year 2000."

Other data

Some examples: New state data show there was a 16 percent increase in families using food stamps between 2001 and 2002 and an 8 percent increase in families going to food banks, Hill said.

Housing advocates say the Kids Count report enforces a recent study that said Whatcom County needs more affordable housing, after showing a worker here must make $14.06 an hour to afford a two-bedroom rental home.

That annual report, called "Out of Reach," also said that at minimum wage - $6.90 an hour - a county resident must work 81 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental at current fair market rates, pegged at $731.

A Bellingham resident under the same conditions must work 109 hours a week to afford monthly rent, according to the report by the Washington Low Income Housing Network.

Housing experts say people shouldn't pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Yet in 1989, 41 percent of rental households in Whatcom County spent 30 percent or more of their income on rent, according to the 2000 Census. By 1999, that number had grown to 47 percent of households.

It's even worse in Bellingham. The city's long-range plan says 53 percent of Bellingham households, or about 5,000, spend more than 30 percent for rent.

Purchase prices

Buying a house in Bellingham was getting harder for many people three years ago. The 2000 census showed that for the first time, more than half - 52.8 percent - of all housing units in Bellingham were rentals, rather than owner-occupied.

"It's a continuation of the same old trend," said Paul Schissler of Kulshan Community Land Trust, which helps low- and moderate-income residents buy homes.

According to a land trust study, local housing costs rose an average of 6 percent a year from 1979 to 1999, yet income rose only 3 percent a year.

"There's a very significant gap between what wages can afford and what housing costs," Schissler said.

Housing costs in the community not only make it hard for people to get off assistance but to stay off assistance, said Kathy Moore, administrator of the state Department of Social and Health Services office in Bellingham.

In an informal survey, DSHS employees followed 67 welfare cases where people moved to subsidized housing, and in only 13 of those cases were the people still on some kind of cash assistance, Moore said.

"It helps you get off assistance," she said.

Reach Mark Porter at mark.porter@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2263.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site