Affordable housing is out of reach in PA for low-wage workers

In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent in Pennsylvania, full-time workers need to earn $19.23 per hour. This is Pennsylvania’s 2020 Housing Wage, revealed in a national report released today. The report, Out of Reach, was jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), a research and advocacy organization dedicated solely to achieving affordable and decent homes for the lowest income people, and the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.

This year, we release the Out of Reach report during a time when the coronavirus has clearly illustrated that housing is healthcare. The mandate to “stay at home” was echoed by top officials across the country. However, having a stable place to stay was out of reach for millions of people before the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, more than 7.7 million extremely low-income renters were spending more than half of their limited incomes on housing costs, sacrificing other necessities to do so. The compounding of high job losses and the lack of access to proper healthcare and resources considerably depleted already limited resources and access.

“Thousands of the lowest-income families in Pennsylvania could not afford Out of Reach rents before the COVID-19 pandemic, and now we are facing a potential rental housing crisis. That’s why it is so important for the Federal government to act to supplement our state’s efforts on emergency rental assistance to avoid a financial cliff and house families during the pandemic,” said Phyllis Chamberlain, Executive Director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania. 

In the past few months alone, millions of households have dealt with a decline in wages through layoffs, furloughs, or decreased work hours and many will struggle to afford their rents. There are no states, metropolitan areas, and ZIP codes in the country where renters can afford a home at Fair Market without spending more than 30 percent of his or her income on housing costs. The severe shortage of affordable and available rental homes is still prevalent.

The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour without an increase since 2009, not keeping pace with the high cost of rental housing. In no state, even those where the minimum wage has been set above the federal standard, can a minimum wage renter working a 40-hour work week afford a modest two-bedroom rental unit at the average fair market rent. Working at the minimum wage of $7.25 in Pennsylvania, a wage earner must have 2.2 full-time jobs or work 86 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment and earn 2.7 full-time jobs or work 106 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

The typical renter in Pennsylvania earns $15.90, which is $3.33 less than the hourly wage needed to afford a modest unit.

The economic downturn spurred by the coronavirus further increased the risk of housing instability for millions of low-wage renters at a time when stable housing is vital. Millions of renters were one financial shock away from housing instability, and for many the pandemic and economic fallout is that shock.

“Housing is a basic human need, but millions of people in America can’t afford a safe, stable home.” said Diane Yentel NLIHC president and CEO. “The harm and trauma of this enduring challenge is laid bare during COVID-19, when millions of people in America risk losing their homes during a pandemic. 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.”

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