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'National Disgrace': Poverty Wages Make Affordable Housing a Myth for Low-Income Americans

"In the richest country in history, no family should have to make the awful choice between putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads."

A new report on housing across the U.S. is unaffordable for many low-income Americans. (Photo: George Rose/Getty Images)

A new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) shows that "affordable housing" is virtually nonexistent—and that in many states, even efforts to institute a minimum wage of $15 per hour would still leave many American workers struggling to find suitable housing that they could easily afford.

"Make no mistake: while the housing market may have recovered for many, we are nonetheless experiencing an affordable housing crisis, especially for very low-income families. That is because wages have been stagnant for decades, while the cost of housing keeps going up," wrote Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in his preface to the report, entitled Out of Reach.

The study's authors calculated the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment without spending more than 30 percent on his or her rent—as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends.

In no state would it be possible for a worker to afford this modest housing arrangement while earning the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, the coalition found:

A full-time worker earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 needs to work approximately 122 hours per week for all 52 weeks of the year, or approximately three full-time jobs, to afford a two-bedroom rental home at the national average fair market rent. The same worker needs to work 99 hours per week for all 52 weeks of the year, or approximately two and a half full-time jobs, to afford a one-bedroom home at the national average fair market rent.

In just 22 out of more than 3,000 counties in the country, the report found, the report also found, a minimum wage worker would be able to afford a one-bedroom rental apartment at fair market rent.

"The affordable housing crisis demands that we think big and act boldly. We must make a historic and sustained commitment to ensure that every family has an affordable place to live and thrive," wrote Sanders, who urged investments in housing programs like the National Housing Trust Fund and the HOME program—rather than plans to raise rent for low-income households who receive federal housing assistance, like the one put forward in recent weeks by President Donald Trump's HUD secretary Ben Carson.

The report comes as North Carolina lawmakers passed a budget that guarantees most state workers a $15 minimum wage—a goal of the fight for $15 movement, but one that will still leave many state workers unable to comfortably afford housing.

According to the NLIHC, North Carolinians would need to make at least $16.35 per hour—working 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year—to afford a two-bedroom home without spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

One state employee, Sekia Royall, told the News & Observer that the additional $3,900 she will take home per year will be welcomed—but will not make a huge difference in her ability to pay for expenses.

"I will be able to afford my medicine, invest back in my education," Royall said. "Not much, though."

In only six states—South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, and West Virginia—as well as Puerto Rico, would $15 per hour be enough to afford housing, according to Out of Reach. In 18 states and the District of Columbia, workers need to make more than $20 per hour to comfortably afford a two-bedroom rental.

"This is a national disgrace...In the richest country in history, no family should have to make the awful choice between putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads," wrote Sanders. "This is America. We have the resources to solve the affordable housing crisis. We have the solutions that work. What we need is the will to do what is right."

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