Gap grows between housing costs, wages

September 10, 2003


Across the Northwest, as across the nation, the cost of housing is out of reach for many of the lowest paid workers, with workers in Pocatello, Idaho struggling just as much to make their rent as workers in downtown Seattle.

In its study "Out of Reach", the National Low-Income Housing Coalition documented for the fifth year the steadily widening gap between the earnings of the poorest citizens and the cost of basic affordable housing.

The group defines affordable as housing costs that eat up no more than 30 percent of a household's gross income.

Some of the 12 new units of subsidized housing go up in Everett, Wash, Sept. 9, 2003.
By that standard, a wage earner in Seattle needs to make $17.75 an hour just to afford the median cost of a two-bedroom apartment at $923 a month. That's up slightly from $17.29 last year, but remains the highest in the Northwest. An hourly wage of $10.94 in Spokane, the cheapest of the state's nine metropolitan areas studied, will put a worker in reach of a two-bedroom place.

But like other areas, that doesn't really make Spokane much more affordable. According to the Coalition, fully 43 percent of Spokane's renters cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment, which goes for about $569. In Seattle, 46 percent of renters cannot afford a two-bedroom.

"It's not possible to live on what I make and be able to afford rent, bills." said Susan Manolides, whose minimum wage job as a receptionist in Everett, Wash. supports her and her daughter.

Manolides lives in subsidized housing provided by Housing Hope, an Everett, Wash.-based affordable housing provider.

Her story is familiar to workers there.

"If you have to chose between rent and food, what would you chose? Families are going hungry," said Deborah Harris-Bolton, of Housing Hope, which has built 200 subsidized unit and has 12 more on the way.

The story is the same in metropolitan as well as rural areas. As the median income of a region goes up, so does the cost of its housing, and so does the work it takes to live in it.

The result in cities and counties across Washington, Oregon and Idaho, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of renters can't afford the cost of a two-bedroom apartment.

In Corvallis, Ore. where the average renter makes about $26,093, the market rent for a two-bedroom apartment of $710 is out of reach for more than half, or 53 percent, of renters.

In Portland, the average renter makes more, about $36,183, but the fair market rent is higher too, at $795, making that city more affordable by comparison. Still, those rents are not affordable to 43 percent of renters.

But even in rural Okanogan County, Wash., where a two-bedroom unit costs $535 per month, half of the county's 4,700 renter households could not afford it.

For minimum wage workers, the story is even more grim. A minimum wage worker in Bellingham, Wash. would have to log 72 hours to afford even a one-bedroom unit. A minimum wage worker in the Portland/Vancouver area would need to put in 71 and workers in Seattle would need to work the equivalent of two full-time jobs to afford a one-bedroom unit.

Resource Links
Housing Coalition report


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