Stateline Story

Housing Squeeze Tightens Around Low-Income Families

  • September 20, 2000
  • By Clare Nolan

In San Francisco, the nation's most expensive housing market, apartment rents have risen so quickly and to such heights that they are simply out-of-reach for low-income families, a new report has found.

And while San Francisco represents the national extreme, high housing costs are pinching low-income families in nearly every city and town in the United States, according to the report, released Wednesday by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).

The study calculates, for every jurisdiction in the country, the hourly wages a family must earn in order to spend no more than 30 percent of its income on housing. By that standard, it would require the incomes of five workers, each earning the minimum wage, to rent a two-bedroom apartment in the San Francisco-Bay area, a 20 percent increase over 1999, the report finds.

"In no city, in no state is there a capacity for a person working on the minimum wage to be able to come close to affording a two-bedroom home," said Senator John Kerry, a Democrat, at a Capitol Hill press conference.

The report ranks Kerry's home state of Massachusetts as the third least affordable in the nation, behind New Jersey and Hawaii. In those three states on average, a worker must earn more than $16.00 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment, the NLIHC calculates.

While San Francisco ranks as the most expensive metropolitan area, California, as a whole, is sixth among the states.

Nationally, on average, a family renting a two-bedroom apartment needs to earn $12.47 an hour, more than twice the federal minimum wage of $5.15, and an increase of $.32 an hour over last year.

"The economy is so strong that it is driving up values across the board. Home values are going up. Rents are going up," said Andrew Cuomo, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to HUD, 5.4 million families are in need of housing assistance, meaning they spend more than 50 percent of their incomes on rent or mortgage payments. "The highest number in the history of the nation -- 5.4 million -- since we've been keeping numbers," Cuomo said.

San Francisco and surrounding Marin, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties -- the heart of Silicon Valley -- account for four of the least affordable jurisdictions in the nation. A worker there has to earn more than $25.00 an hour in order to spend only 30 percent of his income on a two-bedroom apartment.

The counties surrounding New York City are also among the nation's least affordable: Fairfield County, Connecticut, just across the border from New York City, and its towns of Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan and Norwalk; and Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties of New York. Workers there must earn at least $22 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

"Low-wage earners are simply unable to compete in today's housing market without some form of housing assistance," said NLIHC President Sheila Crowley.

The NLIHC has released its report just as Congress prepares to vote on the HUD budget for 2001. The Clinton administration has requested an additional $690 million to pay for 120,000 new housing subsidies for low-income families.>