Report pinpoints affordable housing challenge

In order to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Vermont, full-time workers need to earn $23.36 an hour, or $48,597 annually, according to the national “Out of Reach” report released Tuesday. 

The report annually calculates each state’s “housing wage” — the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford a rental home without spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. It is compiled by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition assists with Vermont’s calculations. 

The average renter in Vermont earns $13.81 an hour, which is $9.55 less than the housing wage. The average renter can afford $718 a month for housing costs. The average statewide market rate for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,215 a month and $969 a month for a one-bedroom. Vermont’s one-bedroom housing wage is $18.64 an hour. 

The housing wage in the greater Burlington area is $30.25, $6.89 an hour higher than the state average, and over $30 an hour for the first time ever

Vermont has the fifth largest affordability gap for renters of any state in the nation, the report found.

“Each year, the ‘Out of Reach’ report is a painful reminder that too many Vermonters must struggle every day to afford a place to live,” Sen. Patrick Leahy said in a press release. “This year, the danger of losing one’s home is compounded by the dangers of a global pandemic. Low-wage workers who already struggle to afford safe, decent and affordable housing are facing reduced hours, job loss and eviction. 

“I will continue to push for housing supports in the next emergency coronavirus package to help ensure that families in Vermont and across the country can have a safe home in which to weather this pandemic, and to take another step in rebuilding our nation.”

At Vermont’s current minimum wage of $10.96, a wage-earner must have 2.1 full-time jobs or work 85 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment and have 1.7 full-time jobs or work 68 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

“The report illustrates what we already know to be true — that housing costs are too high for many Vermont households,” said Cindy Reid of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition. “The high cost of housing creates many challenges like food insecurity, inability to afford medical care or medicine and difficulty affording utilities. We must continue to work on solutions to address Vermont’s housing affordability crisis.” 

The report also found that of the10 most common jobs in Vermont, only registered nurses and bookkeepers/accountants/auditing clerks have average wages higher than the one-bedroom housing wage. 

“Housing is a basic human need, but millions of people in America can’t afford a safe, stable home,” said National Low Income Housing Coalition President Diane Yentel. “The lack of affordable homes for the lowest-income people is one of our country’s most urgent and solvable challenges, during and after COVID-19; we lack only the political courage to fund the solutions at the scale necessary. It’s time for Congress to act.”