HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — By one measure — how many dollars per hour a full-time worker needs to earn in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment — Pennsylvania is about average among states, according to new figures from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC):
Pennsylvania’s $20.90 — again, that’s $20.90 per hour at 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, according to NLIHC’s calculation, to afford a two-bedroom apartment — ranks 27th among U.S. states and far below, for example, New York’s figure of $37.72.
Within Pennsylvania, the average ranged from about $25 in areas surrounding Philadelphia to less than $15 in the Johnstown area. Areas of the Midstate were close to the statewide average:
|Area||Per-hour wage to rent two-bedroom apartment|
But by another measure — how many hours a minimum-wage worker would need to work each week to afford even a one-bedroom apartment — most Pennsylvania counties, according to NLIHC data, are worse off than most places in America, including most of New York state. The darker the blue, the more hours at minimum wage someone would have to work to afford the apartment:
Why the disconnect? Because New York’s minimum wage is $13.20. Pennsylvania’s is the federal minimum: $7.25.
States with counties shaded mostly in light blue — those requiring fewer than 40 hours of work at minimum wage to afford an apartment (assuming a renter spends no more than 30 percent of income on rent) — tend to have either (as in New York’s case) among the highest mimimum wages despite high housing costs or (as in the case of places like Missouri and Arkansas) moderate housing costs and minimum wages several dollars above the federal minimum. (Missouri’s minimum wage is $11.15; Arkansas’ is $11.)
Surprising how many hours some people would need to work to afford a basic apartment in Pennsylvania?
“For some people, it’s not a surprise because they experience it,” said Andrew Aurand, NLIHC’s vice president for research and one of the report’s authors.
Worse yet, Aurand said, rent increases have only accelerated in recent months, after data for the report was complied. For January through March of this year — the most recent quarter included — median U.S. rents were $179 per month higher than a year earlier, following increases of between $25 and $39:
“We all have to sacrifice every now and then,” said Phyllis Chamberlain, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania. But for some people, paying the rent means “not being able to afford food or not being able to afford a car repair, which is what they need to get to work.”
The good news, according to both Aurand and Chamberlain, is that both nationally and in Pennsylvania, some of the worst housing inflation in memory is spurring bipartisan action.
“I will say that that political will has grown and gotten stronger in the last few years, because so many people now have experienced significant rent price inflation,” Aurand said.
And even though Republican legislative leaders in Pennsylvania haven’t given in to Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s pleas to raise the minimum wage, “the General Assembly here in Pennsylvania did make some really significant investments in housing in the last budget cycle,” Chamberlain said.
Among them: something called the Whole Home Repair Program, which will provide grants of up to $50,000 to homeowners who earn up to 80 of the median wage in their areas to make major repairs or improve disabled access in their homes.
Applications aren’t yet available, and a timeline isn’t yet known; Chamberlain said she expects more details in coming months.
The NLIHC’s ask nationally?
“More resources and programs to help renters afford their housing,” Aurand said. “More investment in housing choice vouchers — vouchers help families afford housing in the private market. We also need federal subsidies to produce more affordable housing as well.”