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Rental Housing for America’s Poor Families: Farther Out of Reach Than Ever

9/23/2002:   Each night in America, more than one million children have no place to call “home.” Many of these children and their families live in shelters, motels, cars, or in overcrowded homes with friends or relatives. Families make up 38% of the overall homeless population. Homelessness disrupts virtually every aspect of family life, damaging the physical and emotional health of family members, interfering with children’s education and development, and frequently causing the separation of children from their parents. According to The Better Homes Fund (2002), 12% of homeless children are placed in the foster care system.

Low wages and a lack of affordable housing lead many families into homelessness. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 2.24 million Americans earned the federal minimum wage or less in 2001. More than 60% of minimum wage workers are head of family households or their spouses.

Those making minimum wage are not the only ones unable to afford housing. According to The Washington Post (“Down Payment on Affordable Housing”, Outlook, Sept. 15, 2002) vacancy rates are low and rent increases have hit record highs. This reality not only impacts those eligible for federal housing assistance but also local teachers, firefighters and police officers. Thus, the housing crisis not only affects low-income families, but also those on whom we depend for education and safety.

On September 18, 2002, Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) and Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Christopher Shays (R-CT) released Out of Reach 2002 at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol. Out of Reach, an annual report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, presents the gap between housing costs and income in every jurisdiction across the United States.

Out of Reach 2002, provides statistics for every U.S. state, metropolitan statistical area, and county regarding:
  • The “housing wage” – the amount that a full-time employee must earn to be able to afford a two-bedroom rental home at the Fair Market Rent (FMR) while paying no more than 30% of his or her income.
  • The increase in the housing wage from 2001-2002.
  • The number of hours a person earning minimum wage must work per week to afford a modest rental home.

According to Out of Reach 2002:
  • A person working full-time has to earn an average of $14.66 an hour to pay the rent on a modest two-bedroom home, almost three times the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour and a 5% increase from 2001.
  • In no jurisdiction in the United States does a full-time job at the prevailing minimum wage provide enough income to allow a household to afford a two-bedroom home at the region’s Fair Market Rent.
  • The Housing wages in the areas in which CWLA’s headquarters and regional office are located are:

Location-------Hourly Wage-----Annual Salary
Quincy, MA-----$25.83----------53,126
Washington, DC-$19.21----------39,957
Reston, VA-----$19.21----------39,957
Denver, CO-----$18.17----------37,793
Chicago, IL----$17.85----------37,128
Los Angeles, CA-$16.63---------34,590
Baltimore, MD---$16.23---------33,758

The entire Out of Reach 2002 report can be read and downloaded at www.nlihc.org.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated solely to ending America’s affordable housing crisis. NLIHC educates, organizes, and advocates to ensure decent, affordable housing within safe and healthy neighborhoods for all children and their families. NLIHC educates the public on housing issues, provides up-to-date information, formulates policy, and provides strategies for solutions to the housing crisis.

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