Low-wage work is often what’s available to many Americans. What happens when it doesn’t pay the bills?
In Hawaii, Governor Neil Abercrombie wants to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.75. According to Hawaii News Now, the governor introduced the proposal in his state of the state address, saying, “‘Minimum wage earners provide immediate infusion of dollars into the economy. Everyone is worthy of their labor. Industry and corporations do not lack for support in these halls. Neither should those who work the hardest for the least return.’” The article notes that Hawaii’s $31.68-per-hour housing wage means decent housing is out of reach for many workers in Hawaii’s service-driven economy. Many Hawaii residents interviewed for the article discuss the difficulty of getting by in their state, with one noting that having two or three jobs is the norm for many Hawaiians.
The situation can be particularly dire for the elderly. An article in The Nation profiles elderly homeless women in San Francisco and the inadequate social supports available to them. Skyrocketing rents, cuts to services and an aging population mean an increasing number of seniors spending their golden years in homeless shelters and on the streets.
In housing news this week, we found encouraging signs that the conventional wisdom about housing policy might be changing, and continued concern that not enough is being done to end poverty and suffering in our nation.
CQ covers a new wrinkle in the tax debate raging in Washington: Willingness to let go of sacred cows. Both an NLIHC poll and a Pew poll indicate public support for modifying the mortgage interest deduction, and even the home builders are said to be open to a mortgage interest credit that would be helpful for first-time home buyers. NLIHC proposes converting the mortgage interest deduction into a 15% to 20% credit and capping it at interest on mortgages up to $500,000, and using the savings to fund the building and rehabilitation of affordable rental housing.
The Nation celebrated an anti-poverty Thanksgiving last week with reflections on the holiday from advocacy leaders and low income people. In her reflection, NLIHC President & CEO Sheila Crowley said, “ I will know that change has come when people are not sleeping outside on concrete in November two blocks from the White House.”
Finally, a column in Yes! Weekly explores the social cost of an economic and political system that requires minimum-wage workers to work 75 hours or more per week to be able to afford decent housing and other household expenses. The author suggests that other social ills could be the result if Americans cease to believe in the promise of the American dream.
Waiting lists for housing assistance and restrictions against occupancy by those with bad rental records or criminal backgrounds make roadside motels one of the few housing options accessible to some extremely low income people. The closure of one such motel in Spokane, Wash. means about 50 such residents will be displaced. It’s not just these residents who are hurting. According to an NLIHC report cited in the article, over half of Spokane County residents pay more than 30% of their income for rent.
The closure of a nonprofit-run apartment complex in Durham, N.C. will result in homelessness for about 200 low income, elderly or disabled individuals, including children. Most of the residents are considered “working poor,” and the rents those households can afford to pay are simply not enough to cover the costs of operating and maintaining housing. Federal, state and local subsidies can fill the gap, but as advocates quoted in the article note, there are too few of those to go around.
In the Gaylord (Mich.) Herald-Times, an article notes that while the foreclosure crisis and tough economic conditions have made renting more appealing for many Americans, the truth in many communities is that renting is still out of reach for those making minimum wage. Services and funding for affordable housing development are scarce, but advocates quoted in the article urge those in need to come forward for help regardless.
It’s not just private or nonprofit housing that’s at risk of closing; public housing can disappear, too. In a report on the causes of homelessness experienced by women with children, Truthout notes that 10,000 units of U.S. public housing are lost to demolition or disposition each year. This means about 165,000 units of housing were lost between 1995 and 2010.
According to an opinion piece in the New York Times, there are roughly the same number of assisted housing units now as there were in 2000, though the number of people living in poverty has grown by 14 million. The column’s authors, Yonah Freemark and Lawrence J. Vale, advocate NLIHC’s proposal to modify the mortgage interest deduction and use the savings from reform to fund the National Housing Trust Fund, as a fair and sensible solution to this problem.
In this week’s News Round-Up, we find news stories showing that both natural disasters, and the disastrous economy, have combined with the nationwide shortage of rental housing affordable to low income people to create a crisis for many American families.
In Vermont, manufactured home park residents whose homes were flooded during Hurricane Irene had no other choice but to destroy their own homes, as repair was impossible and the fee to dispose of them was more than the residents could afford. In a state with the second lowest rental vacancy rates and the seventh highest rents, these former homeowners will have a tough time finding a place they can afford. They will also find themselves in competition with other low income families for scarce affordable rental opportunities. As the need grows, service providers have difficulty stretching the state and federal funding available to them, and must cobble together donations and other resources to help their clients.
Franklin County, Pennsylvania’s shelter system is under stress due to the poor economy and lack of housing affordable to low income people. Waiting lists for vouchers and public housing mean the shelters stay full.
We find a similar story in Indiana, where the minimum and low wage jobs available pay nowhere near the $17.84 Housing Wage there. Service providers say they’re seeing an increase in homeless families in particular.
Data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition helped a New Jersey organization show that two-income households struggling to stay stable is the new norm even in affluent communities. A survey of low income North New Jersey households found that housing was among the greatest needs of those families. Not surprisingly, full-time, minimum wage work won’t pay the rent in this part of the country.
The Wall Street Journal uses data to paint a compelling picture of the change in how housing assistance is provided in the United States. Even as an average of 10,000 assisted rental units are lost each year, HUD has shifted from providing new public and project-based housing to providing more vouchers. Even then, the number of vouchers issued each year has leveled off, and only a quarter of those in need of housing assistance receive it. It’s no wonder finding affordable housing is such a challenge for low income working people.
In this week’s News Round-Up, we find that one thing remains true for American cities large and small: there is not enough housing affordable to lower income people.
According to HUD, the Washington, D.C. has the second highest rents in the country, which matches with the Coalition finding that the D.C. metropolitan region has the nation’s 10th most expensive rents. In Marshall, a town of 24,000 in eastern Texas, low income renters face the same challenges as their counterparts in the nation’s capitol. With 22% of area residents living at or below the poverty line, many families are cost burdened by their rents. As an expert interviewed for this story says, “’If you’re spending 50 percent on housing, it simply doesn’t work. Something has to give.’”
Minimum wage workers are among those Americans having the hardest time finding housing they can afford. Even with an increase in the minimum wage, like the one signed into law in Rhode Island recently, low wage workers will have a difficult time finding an apartment they can afford on the private market. A law in Massachusetts requires 10% of housing stock in cities and towns must be affordable. This article shows that while some towns struggle to meet the target, others have found success, making it possible for more people of all incomes to live stable lives in that state.
This week’s news round-up shows the impact of present-day policy on the future of housing, and of our country.
Illinois Public Media tells the story of the Danville, Illinois public housing stock. Under scrutiny by HUD for its fair housing practices, the city is attempting to move forward with a plan to demolish a significant portion of its public housing.
Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) recently introduced legislation, endorsed by NLIHC, to catch America up to the past by increasing the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour. In the segment on her program dedicated to this subject, Melissa Harris-Perry notes that in no state does the minimum wage allow a household to afford a decent apartment.
In her testimony at a hearing of the housing subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, Coalition President Sheila Crowley noted that “Observers often ask if the shortage of rental housing for the low and extremely low income population is a housing problem or an income problem. The answer is that it is both.” Two news stories this last week illustrate this fact.
Expensive communities make for difficult living for many people, and those with limited income have it worst. In Marin County, California, community meetings are under way to engage residents in revising Marin’s 10-Year Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. County leaders say that the precariously housed, those who are a missed paycheck, illness or other incident away from homelessness, make up a large part of the population in one of the three least affordable counties in America.
In communities with less expensive housing, an increase in income for lower income people could have a tremendous impact on their ability to rent. This article from the Deseret News explores the debate over raising the minimum wage and shows that a pay increase for minimum wage workers could help left them out of poverty and closer to affording rental housing.