Guest Blog: How Utah advocates used Out of Reach data to support legislation for raising the state minimum wage

Guest post by Barbara Stallone, Director of Policy and Public Relations, Utah Housing Coalition

The Republican heavy legislature of Utah is not usually an arena that would be considered friendly to a conversation about the need for a living wage. However, during the recently ended 2014 legislative session, HB 73 Living Wage Amendments were sponsored by Representative Lynn Hemingway. The bill would have increased minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.25 in Utah and mandated additional increases every two years tied to the Consumer Price Index. Representative Hemingway defined a living wage as one that “pulls people out of poverty.” While the last several bills regarding minimum wage increases have failed, this bill had a robust debate and has been returned to the Health and Human Services committee for additional study during interim.

The Utah Housing Coalition (UHC) was able to use Out of Reach data in several ways to further this conversation. First, when the sponsor introduced the bill, UHC approached him and asked if he was interested in numbers that would support the need for an increased wage. He was thrilled to have the numbers readily available to support his contention that Utah needs to adjust wages to make housing more attainable for a greater number of people. We handed him the Utah specific page of the Out of Reach report. He used the data from that page to craft his initial testimony on the bill.

Secondly, to add emphasis to his initial testimony, UHC prepared individualized reports for each committee member with regard to the numbers specific to their respective district. This data helped to drive home the point that there are those living on the edge of housing stability in their own districts. Tara Rollins, Executive Director of Utah Housing Coalition, explained, “The importance of pay in relation to the ability to maintain housing cannot be understated. We need wages that will allow people to pay for their housing and we need rents at a level that people can pay.”

With this session safely behind us, the Utah Housing Coalition will continue to share the Out of Reach data with legislators, and will be meeting with local and county elected officials to reinforce the data throughout the summer.

State-specific Out of Reach 2014 data can be found online at www.nlihc.org/oor/2014.

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Twenty-five years after Out of Reach was first published, the housing crisis continues…

A week ago, NLIHC released its annual report, Out of Reach. Out of Reach 2014 provides extensive data on housing costs and wages for every state, county, and metropolitan area in the United States. Over the years, NLIHC has expanded and improved the Out of Reach report; however, the methodology remains the same. Here’s a review of some key definitions and figures used by Out of Reach:

AFFORDABILITY
What it means: The federally accepted standard of “affordable” housing is that which requires no more than 30% of the household income be spent on rent and utilities. Out of Reach uses this standard of affordability to determine the wages renters must earn to afford their local rent.

How to explain it:
Many Americans spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. For some, this may be considered a short-term situation. However, for millions of low income Americans, spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs means serious housing instability as these households often live paycheck to paycheck.

When a household has to spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities, they are considered cost burdened. When a household has to spend more than 50% of their income on rent and utilities, they are considered severely cost burdened. Three out of every four extremely low income families are severely cost burdened, forcing them to make tough decisions on how to spend the little leftover income they have on food, transportation, medical costs, child care, and other important expenses.

FAIR MARKET RENT (FMR)
What it means: Simply put, Fair Market Rents (FMRs) are a standard measure of current housing costs across the country, using a consistent methodology. HUD estimates FMRs annually. They represent HUD’s best estimate of what a household seeking a modest rental unit in a short amount of time can expect to pay for rent and utilities in the current market. When calculating what incomes renters need to earn to afford rent, Out of Reach uses the Fair Market Rents.

HOUSING WAGE
What it means: How much must an individual earn hourly in order to afford a rental unit at FMR. The standard Housing Wage refers to a two-bedroom rental unit; however, Out of Reach also provides the Housing Wage for efficiencies up to 4-bedroom units in the state excel files. This figure is an average, available at the national level, state level, county level, and metropolitan area level.

How to use it: The 2014 two-bedroom national Housing Wage is $18.92. This figure varies considerably at state and local levels, so it is most effective to look up your county, metropolitan area, or state Housing Wage. You can compare this piece of data with what the average renter in that area actually earns, and what minimum wage workers earn.

While the Housing Wage can help your elected official understand the disparity between what renters in your community need to earn to afford rent and what they actually make, it is important to note that raising wages is an insufficient response to the problem. In every state, the Housing Wage is higher than the proposed raised federal minimum wage of $10.10. This disparity points to the extreme shortage of rental housing that is both affordable and available to low income renters. The strongest solution to the affordable housing crisis is an increased federal investment in affordable housing, which can be best achieved through the National Housing Trust Fund.

RENTER WAGE
What it means: How much does the average renter earn on an hourly basis. This wage is a mean calculation.

How to use it: Compare your state or local renter wage with your Housing Wage to demonstrate that the average renter cannot afford rent. It is important to note that because the renter wage is an average, many families face an even greater wage disparity.

HOURS AT MINIMUM WAGE NEEDED TO AFFORD RENT
ImageWhat it means: This one is pretty self-explanatory, which is why it has become one of the most popular data points from Out of Reach. This analysis is most widely recognized in its map form, which provides how many hours a minimum wage worker must work every week to afford a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent. The calculations use the prevailing minimum wage (whichever is higher between the federal or state minimum wage).

How to use it: This Out of Reach analysis has been used by many to argue for increasing the federal minimum wage. In every state, this figure is greater than 40 hours per week, even when using the prevailing state minimum wage. This reveals that nowhere in America, can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a two-bedroom rental unit.

Learn more, and read the full Out of Reach 2014 report, at www.nlihc.org/oor/2014. Use the “View State Data” dropdown to access your state’s Out of Reach page. Click on the attached State Report (PDF) and State Data (Excel) to view and compare these and other data.

NEXT POST:
Barbara Stallone, Director of Policy and Public Relations for the Utah Housing Coalition, guest blog posts on how our state partner used Out of Reach data to advocate for an increased state minimum wage.

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March 31, 2014 · 10:29 am

Celebrating a Housing Champion!

One of the basic principles of housing policy is the “Brooke rule.”

The Brooke rule defines housing as affordable only when assisted households use no more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities. “Brooke rents” are a critical part to ensuring housing programs fairly serve the lowest income populations and have largely shaped affordable housing policy.

So who is the person behind the “Brooke rule”?

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Senator Edward W. Brooke, III

We bring this up because last Saturday marked the 94th birthday of Senator Edward W. Brooke, III!

Senator Brooke is one of the nation’s most notable and beloved low income housing champions, a loyal supporter of NLIHC, and now the oldest living U.S. Senator.

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Senator Brooke spoke of his friend, Cushing Dolbeare, following her death in 2005. Pictured here with NLIHC President Sheila Crowley.

Senator Brooke was chair of the National Low Income Housing Coalition in the early 1980s and was a dear friend of NLIHC founder the late Cushing N. Dolbeare. Senator Brooke continues to support NLIHC’s work as the honorary chair of United for Homes, the campaign to fund the National Housing Trust Fund through modifications to the mortgage interest deduction.

Born on October 26, 1919 the grandson of a former slave, Senator Brooke went on to be the first African-American Senator since Reconstruction and the first African-American to be elected a state Attorney General. The Massachusetts Republican served in the U.S. Senate from 1967 to 1979, where he was a member of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and was able to tackle low income housing, one of his signature issues.

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Senator Brooke being presented the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009, the highest award Congress has to honor civilians for achievements and contributions to society.

Among housing advocates, Senator Brooke is best known for championing the 1968 Fair Housing Act and for his 1969 amendment to the Housing Act of 1937, now called the Brooke Amendment or Brooke Rule. The principle of limiting the housing ‘burden’ of very low income renters survives in statute and continues to be regarded as a key principle in affordable housing policy today.

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President Lyndon B. Johnson signing into law the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Senator Brooke stands in the middle.

After awarding Senator Brooke with its annual housing leadership award, NLIHC renamed the award after the former Senator. Every year, NLIHC awards a current housing leader with the Edward W. Brooke, III Housing Leadership Award. At the 32nd Housing Leadership Awards Reception, to be held on April 29, 2014, another leader be honored with this special award, joining the ranks of past recipients Senator Olympia Snowe (2013), Senator Patty Murray (2012), Nan Roman of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (2011), Representative Keith Ellison (2010), and Representative John Kerry (2010).

NLIHC wishes Senator Brooke a Happy Birthday, and thanks him for his years of service and partnership!

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More Reflections from the Road…

NLIHC staff have been on the road a lot, connecting with advocates and educating new audiences on the United for Homes campaign to fund the National Housing Trust Fund. We set out to help more people get involved, but as it often happens, we got just as much out of the trips by connecting with passionate advocates.

 Here are some reflections from Outreach Associate Joseph Lindstrom, who accompanied NLIHC President Sheila Crowley on a road trip to Michigan earlier this month:

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I returned from Michigan deeply impressed by the number of people who took time out of their day to get involved with United for Homes. It was also great to see that people from the various communities clearly understood mortgage interest deduction reform and the need for the National Housing Trust Fund. It has been said that reforming the mortgage interest deduction is a complex issue and can be confusing to explain, but everywhere we went the questions had less to do with the intricacies of the proposal and more to do with how people can help. It was inspiring to see how many people were ready to take action.

We were happy to tell new advocates how they can make an impact, and many times our current endorsers in Michigan were able to coordinate efforts with new allies. Just by participating in the events and showing overwhelming community interest in housing policy, attendees were advancing United for Homes.

Connecting with people throughout the country will continue to be important as the campaign builds momentum. I am grateful to have had this experience, and look forward to expanding on our success for future events. I learned a few new things about planning events, a few new things about generating support, and a whole lot about the wonderful advocates in Michigan.

View more pictures from Joe and Sheila’s Michigan road trip on the United for Homes Facebook page.

Last week, our State Coalition Project Director La’Teashia Sykes trekked all the way to Alaska! Here are reflections from La’Teashia on her trip:

Last week, I had the opportunity to present the United for Homes proposal at the conference of the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, an NLIHC State Partner. Service providers and advocates from across the state came together to share strategies and discuss solutions for the state’s housing and homeless crisis. Not only were attendees clearly eager for change; people were excited to hear about how the United for Homes proposal could bring that change.

Like every other state in the country, Alaska struggles with affordable housing issues – further perpetuating homelessness in the state. Alaska is a unique state in many ways, but its sub-zero harsh winters set it apart from most U.S. states. No one should be without a safe and decent home at any point, period. But, with Alaska’s housing shortage at 12,329 for people with the lowest incomes in the state, many have no choice but to brave the cold when the shelters are too full or when they have reached their maximum days of stay.

“Living in your car? That doesn’t work! It’s like an ice box,” a formerly homeless man shared with conference attendees. He also mentioned that some purposefully cycle through the criminal system just to stay sheltered, warm, and fed during winter months. Now that he is in a permanent home, he does not have to worry about his limited food and water supply freezing over in his tent. In warmer months, he no longer fears bears or other wild animals ravaging his makeshift shelter in search of food.

Organizations like Catholic Social Services Anchorage and Beans Café are doing what they can to help people that do not have a place to call home. However, the needs are growing and the burdens on the shelter systems are heavy. With cuts to federal programs that serve those with the greatest needs, the burden will unfortunately continue to expand. I met with staff of NeighborWorks Anchorage, one of the organizations providing affordable rental housing. They discussed the need for funds to build housing affordable to poor families. With Alaska being a small population state, it gets a smaller allocation of federal funds for programs like HOME and CDBG– and it’s just not enough to produce housing for all in need of a home.

I learned many things during my trip, but what sticks out the most is that advocates and providers in Alaska care deeply about the people they serve, and because of that they work collaboratively to maximize and strengthen services for citizens in need. They are also hungry for real solutions to end the housing and homeless crisis. After my presentation of the United for Homes proposal, people asked detailed questions about the flexibility of the National Housing Trust Fund and how the proposal would affect Alaska. People were excited to see how much money Alaska could receive to build and preserve homes for those who need help the most if the National Housing Trust Fund is funded.

Other questions followed, but the best question I received from multiple people was: What can I do to advance United for Homes?

You might have guessed it, but one easy way advocates can advance United for Homes is by hosting a campaign event! NLIHC staff can help put together anything from a town hall meeting to a presentation for your board or a conference workshop. We are also happy to provide a state-specific PowerPoint presentation or coordinate a webinar.

After all, when it comes to engaging more people with the United for Homes campaign, we are happy to go to great lengths.

To find out more about hosting a campaign event, email outreach@nlihc.org.

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The Solution

Home is the foundation. How do we ensure that every American has an affordable one? Watch the video to find out.

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October 10, 2013 · 11:12 am

Reflections from the Road, by Sheila Crowley

The first road trip of the United for Homes campaign took place last week in the state of Michigan. Joseph Lindstrom and I visited eight communities in three days meeting with advocates and providers of low income housing, services to people who are homeless, and services for people with disabilities. We visited a CDC in Flint, a public housing agency in Reed City, a service center for people with disabilities in Kalamazoo, a statewide meeting of homeless service providers in Ann Arbor, and more.

We learned that the voucher administrator in Traverse City may have to give up the program because there are not enough funds to keep running it. We were told about families living in deer blinds in rural areas. We heard people with disabilities express their fear that they will lose their homes because of the federal government shutdown. We talked to homeless service providers who have laid off many members of staff because of the sequester. Everywhere we went, the common theme was the housing shortage for people who are poor and a feeling of desperation that it would only get worse.

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Sheila speaking in Kalamazoo

NLIHC received high praise for our research and the voluminous data we make available to advocates to use to make the case for more rental housing that is affordable to the lowest income families in their communities. But I heard something more about what these data mean to people who are struggling to help poor and homeless people find affordable homes. The data help them to understand why their jobs are so hard and to “maintain sanity” in the face of overwhelming need. The data explain what is really going on.

We spend a lot of time in our local meetings going over the details of the United for Homes proposal to fund the National Housing Trust Fund with revenue raised by modifying the mortgage interest deduction. We got a lot of good, thoughtful questions that indicated that how engaged people were. We were able to show how few people in Michigan borrow over $500,000 to buy homes (0.5% of all mortgages between 2009 and 2011) and how much money would come to Michigan to solve the housing problems of the poor if our proposal became law. Having something to work towards, instead of just defending the status quo, offers advocates hope.

Many thanks to our hosts across the state for the warm welcome and encouragement. We are honored to partner with you to advance the United for Homes campaign for as long as takes.

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On the Road & Busting Myths

The United for Homes campaign is pretty straightforward:

We want to reform the mortgage interest deduction, which would create almost $200 billion in revenue over ten years. And then, we want to use this new revenue to finally fund the National Housing Trust Fund!

What may seem more complicated is the actual proposal to reform the mortgage interest deduction, but that too, can easily be broken down. There are two main points to our proposal:

  1. Reduce the size of a mortgage eligible for the tax break to $500,000, and
  2. Convert the deduction to a 15% non-refundable tax credit.

Under current law, taxpayers can deduct the interest paid in that tax year on a home mortgage of up to $1 million. United for Homes proposes lowering the cap from $1 million to $500,000.

Now here comes a big myth: This will hurt many homeowners in my community.

The reality is just 4% of all mortgages in the U.S. are over $500,000, according to an analysis of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data from 2007-2011.

As Sheila and Joe prepared to set out on the Michigan road trip, we took a deeper look at the mortgages in the state. Thanks to our savvy NLIHC Research team, we were able to prepare this map that reveals the percentages of mortgages over $500,000 in each county.

United for Homes

We have the opportunity to finally end homelessness! “Ah, but 0.1% of the mortgages in my county are over $500,000, so we cannot reform that tax break,” said no one ever.

The Michigan map has been very useful for Sheila and Joe as they present the United for Homes campaign, and we have state and county data available to help YOU educate others!

Yesterday in Flint, Amy Hoyer from Representative Dan Kildee’s office attended the community meeting. Amy spoke about the importance of advocates connecting with federal elected officials through calls and letters. She said it was critical that elected officials hear from their constituents on any proposal that may seem controversial.

United for Homes

Sue Hart puts a UFH bumper sticker on her car following the Flint community meeting. Endorse UFH in the next 2 minutes, and you will receive not 1, but 2 UFH bumper stickers! http://www.unitedforhomes.org/support

TAKE ACTION! We encourage you to contact your elected officials about the United for Homes proposal, and to use your state and county data to inform them on the actual percentage of mortgages over $500,000. After all, who doesn’t love bustin’ myths.

Click here to look up the percentages of mortgages in your state that are over $500,000.
For county data, email althea@nlihc.org.

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