News Round-Up: The Prosperity Paradox

When does a booming economy make a state’s residents worse-off? When rents far exceed what low-wage workers can afford to pay.

In Wyoming, where the oil and gas industry is growing rapidly, unemployment has decreased and remains below the national average, while homelessness has increased. According to the Casper Star-Tribune, while the population is increasing, the supply of housing is not, and with a county rental vacancy rate of 1.6% and just 600 public housing units provided by the public housing agency in Casper, low-wage workers will have a hard time finding the housing they need at rents they can afford.

High demand for rental units is a trend seen nationwide, according to this post on The Pump Handle, a public health blog. The article notes that the kind of housing instability seen in places like Wyoming has broad impacts on residents’ health and well-being.

What low-wage workers need is more housing affordable and available to them, not less. But as the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette explained last week, sequestration cuts to the HUD public housing budgets means fewer people will have access to the affordable housing they need.

News Round-Up: States Don’t Fill the Gap

In 2008, the National Low Income Housing Coalition released a report detailing how, despite their tremendous efforts to do so, states were unable to make up for the shrinking availability of federal dollars for affordable housing development with their own housing funds.

In the Sacramento News & Review, we read a story that brings this report to life. The legislatively mandated dissolution of California’s housing redevelopment agencies means that affordable housing developments like the one featured in the article may be the last of their kind.

Advocates speculate that funding from the National Housing Trust Fund could help fill in the gap. But as The Nation notes, the National Housing Trust Fund is a necessary program that doesn’t yet have the funding necessary for it to build the housing that low income people need. With uncertainty growing over how lawmakers will address the federal deficit and sequestration, it’s more urgent than ever that a greater measure of fairness be brought to federal housing policy so that the acute shortage of housing affordable to seniors, people with disabilities and those in the low-wage workforce can finally be brought to an end.

Talk of the Town: The Low-Wage Recovery

According to a report from the National Employment Law Project released this week, most of the jobs added during the recovery from the Great Recession have been low-wage jobs, even though the majority of those lost were middle-wage jobs.

According to the report, the fastest growing occupations between the first quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of this year were retail sales and food preparation. While the average hourly wage for retail is $10.97, and the average hourly wage for food prep is $9.04, the Housing Wage- the amount a household must earn, working full time, to afford rent and utilities on a modest 2-bedroom apartment- is $18.25. As our report, Out of Reach 2012: America’s Forgotten Housing Crisis, demonstrated, those low wages are simply not enough to cover the cost of housing without scrimping on basic necessities like food and medicine.

The New York Times story on the report also mentions the ongoing polarization of the U.S. labor market, wherein job growth happens in both highly specialized-and high-paying- technical fields, and in low-paying, low-skilled jobs like the low-wage jobs cited in the NELP study. If this trend continues, it will mean an ever-growing gap between those who can easily afford housing, and those who can barely keep a roof overhead.

How do you think we can solve the housing problems of these low-wage workers? Is there a way to put a stop to the polarization of the labor market? What have you heard the presidential candidates, or other candidates for elected office in your community, say about these issues? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

News Round-Up: Housing Disasters, Natural and Man-Made

In this week’s News Round-Up, we find news stories showing that both natural disasters, and the disastrous economy, have combined with the nationwide shortage of rental housing affordable to low income people to create a crisis for many American families.

In Vermont, manufactured home park residents whose homes were flooded during Hurricane Irene had no other choice but to destroy their own homes, as repair was impossible and the fee to dispose of them was more than the residents could afford. In a state with the second lowest rental vacancy rates and the seventh highest rents, these former homeowners will have a tough time finding a place they can afford. They will also find themselves in competition with other low income families for scarce affordable rental opportunities. As the need grows, service providers have difficulty stretching the state and federal funding available to them, and must cobble together donations and other resources to help their clients.

Franklin County, Pennsylvania’s shelter system is under stress due to the poor economy and lack of housing affordable to low income people. Waiting lists for vouchers and public housing mean the shelters stay full.

We find a similar story in Indiana, where the minimum and low wage jobs available pay nowhere near the $17.84 Housing Wage there. Service providers say they’re seeing an increase in homeless families in particular.