Even before the economic upheaval of the pandemic, many Americans were either homeless or on the brink of homelessness due to the dire lack of affordable housing nationwide. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual Out of Reach report, released last week, underscores the growing divide between stagnant incomes and rising rents throughout the United States. The report found that a full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford a two-bedroom rental in any state, county, or city in the country, and they can afford a one-bedroom rental in a mere 7 percent of all U.S. counties.
The data for New York are particularly striking. Compared with all states, New York State has the fourth-highest “housing wage” – the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to rent a modest home without spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Consistent with the annual report’s grim findings from past years, the affordability issues are even more severe in the New York City region, where the 2021 Fair Market Rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,801, and $2,053 for a two-bedroom apartment. A renter needs to make $34.63 per hour to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment in New York City, or $39.48 per hour for a two-bedroom apartment – in either case, more than double the $15 hourly minimum wage. The burden of this affordability crisis disproportionately falls on Black and Latinx renters, including many frontline essential workers whose incomes do not come close to covering the cost of housing.
The report provides further evidence of the urgent need for the Federal government to boldly invest in housing as a human right. One transformative proposal would be to enact universal Section 8, making rental assistance available to everyone who qualifies. As this recent op-ed explains, rent vouchers are proven to reduce homelessness and housing insecurity, but currently only one out of every four eligible households receives this critical assistance, while those left behind face unsustainable rent burdens and the prospect of having no home at all. This year’s Out of Reach report is yet another reminder that the current system of rationing housing assistance leaves too many low-income Americans without stable, affordable housing.
Fortunately, last week House Financial Services Committee Chair Rep. Maxine Waters, along with New York City Congressman Rep. Ritchie Torres and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, introduced The Ending Homelessness Act of 2021 to phase in universal rental assistance for all eligible households by 2030. According to an analysis by the New York Housing Conference, establishing Section 8 as a full entitlement for all eligible low-income households could benefit 1.3 million New York households, 60 percent of which are Black or Latinx and 53 percent of which are headed by women.
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Anna Bahney wrote about the report for CNN:
“These amounts are far higher than many Americans – including seniors, people with disabilities, and working families – can spend on housing,” wrote Marcia L. Fudge, secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, in the preface to the report.
There are 7.5 million low-income renters who are “extremely” cost burdened — meaning they spend more than half of their income on housing, according to the report. This can put renters at risk of homelessness. More than 580,000 people were homeless during the peak of the coronavirus crisis last year, according to HUD.
Housing affordability is a greater challenge for Black and Latino households, the report found, with those groups more likely to be housing cost burdened.
During the pandemic, Black and Latino workers saw higher unemployment rates, leading to these groups being more likely to have fallen behind on rent, according to analysis of data from the Census Bureau by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The NLIHC, a non-profit policy advocate for growing and improving affordable housing, recommends expanding rental assistance to all eligible struggling renters and making investments in the national Housing Trust Fund and public housing to create, preserve, and rehabilitate affordable homes.
It also asks Congress to create a permanent National Housing Stabilization Fund to provide temporary assistance for households at risk of eviction and to strengthen and enforce renters’ protections, in order to keep renters stably housed.