Not good news for those who rent homes

WASHINGTON D.C. - According to a national report released last week, the housing wage for Washington state is $19.10.

The housing wage is the hourly wage a family must earn - working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year - to be able to afford the rent and utilities for a safe and modest home in the private housing market. Washington's housing wage has increased 44 percent since 2000 and 8 percent just since last year.

The report, Out of Reach 2011, was jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington D.C.-based housing policy organization, and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. The report provides the housing wage and other housing affordability data for every state, metropolitan area, combined non metropolitan area and county in the country.

"Data from Out of Reach supports what we know about Washington: low-income families are still struggling to find decent and affordable housing in communities across the state," said Rachael Myers, executive director of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. "While we work to rebuild our economy after the recession, we cannot forget the low income families whose basic housing needs continue to go unmet."

Working at Washington's minimum wage of $8.67/hour, a family must have 2.2 wage earners working full-time - or one full-time earner working 88 hours - to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.

The typical renter in Washington earns $13.96 per hour, which is $5.14 less than the hourly wage needed to afford a modest market-rate unit.

An estimated 54 percent of renters in Washington do not earn enough to afford a two-bedroom unit at the fair market rent rate.

These new statistics may help inform a debate that is ongoing in the state legislature's special session: how much funding to allocate to the state Housing Trust Fund. Housing created by the trust fund (over 36,000 units since the fund was established in 1989) primarily serves renters making around $19,000 per year ($9.13/hour) or less. Current budget proposals for the Housing Trust Fund range from $30 million in the Senate budget to $60 million in the House proposal, down from $130 million allocated in the last biennium, and from $200 million that housing advocates initially requested this year.

This year, Washington is the 15th most expensive state in the nation for renters. In the northwest region, only Alaska is more expensive. The national housing wage is $18.46 in 2011.

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