DC Rental Costs Far Out Of Reach For Low-Income Households

Seems this is affordable housing month for my blog. Because I could hardly pass up the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s new figures. These show, in detail, how far out of reach affordable rental housing is for low-income households in the District and nationwide.

NLIHC slices and dices figures in various ways — all based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual fair market rents, i.e., the average costs of modest rental units, with basic utilities in every metropolitan area in the country.

The affordable standard also comes from HUD — 30% of gross household income. As you probably know, this is the standard commonly used by policymakers, analysts and advocates.

HUD is the prime source for the estimated area median income as well, though NLIHC had to do some calculations of its own to come up with current averages.

Both the FMRs and the AMI are somewhat crude tools for the District because it’s part of a metropolitan area that also includes nearby parts of Maryland and Virginia. This skews the AMI — and thus affordability estimates — upward.

That said, here are some of the key NLIHC (un)affordability indicators for low and not-so-low-income District renters.

  • A household would have to have an income of $58,440 a year to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the FMR rate.
  • This translates into a wage income of $28.10 an hour, assuming full-time, year-round employment — $4.68 more per hour than the estimated average hourly wage in the area.
  • The cost of the apartment is 153% of what a household earning the estimated average income for area renters could afford.
  • It’s unaffordable for 68% of D.C. renter households. That’s more than 93,600 renter households with excess rental burdens — well over a third of all households in the District.
  • A full-time minimum wage worker would have to put in 136 hours per week to afford the apartment — or share the apartment with another full-time minimum wage worker and a third working part-time.
  • The monthly rent on the apartment is $678 more per month than a household with an income at 30% of the AMI could afford.
  • Even a household with an income at 50% of AMI would be short $157 a month.
  • For someone dependent on Supplemental Security Income, even a studio apartment at the FMR rate is well out of reach — about one and two-thirds times the total SSI stipend.

One of the reasons to welcome these dismal figures is that they’re the latest in an annual series. They thus provide a barometer for the worsening housing affordability crisis that’s afflicting the District — and a large majority of other communities nationwide.

On the other hand, we’ve had more than enough figures to tell us that rental costs are threatening the well-being of low-income households — and from a number of sources too.

It’s lack of political will, not ignorance that’s allowing this problem to fester.


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