Last Thursday, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim religious leaders all found common ground by declaring housing a “sacred right.” That same day, the National Low Income Housing Coalition released data showing just how far tenants across the United States are from that holy grail. In their latest annual report on housing affordability, Coalition researchers found dismal news: for low-income tenants, New York is one of the toughest cities in the country.
The gap between what most residents earn and what their housing costs is glaring. The city's “housing wage”–or what a household must make per hour to afford a modest place to live–is $17.13. That's 293 percent of the minimum wage. According to the most recent census estimates, New York's median annual income is just $22,902, or $11 an hour based on a 40-hour work week. A minimum wage worker would have to work for more than 130 hours a week to pay the going rent.
It's not just New York. Nowhere in the U.S., the report found, can a full-time minimum wage job pay for a market rate one-bedroom apartment. Welfare benefits cover the cost only in Wisconsin, Vermont and Alaska. Nationwide, 43 percent of renting households can't afford a two-bedroom apartment, and even in the 10 most affordable parts of the country, about a third of all households can't afford two-bedroom digs.
New York City ranks the tenth worst in the country for affordability, but our bridge-and-tunnel neighbors offer no refuge. Southwest Connecticut, Long Island, Westchester and central New Jersey are third, fourth, fifth and sixth least affordable, just behind silicon-gilded San Francisco and San Jose.
According to the report, which is accessible online at www.nlihc.org, an estimated 51 percent of Queens renters cannot afford market rent; in the Bronx and Manhattan, 48 percent of renters don't make enough money; and in Staten Island, a whopping 63 percent of households can't afford the going rate. The report used HUD's “fair market rent” for New York City, pegged at $785 for a one-bedroom apartment and $891 for a two bedroom; in many parts of the city, of course, actual rents are even higher. “What's disturbing–and not surprising–is that New York's rank doesn't change from year to year,” said Joe Heaphy, executive director of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition. “I think it's just going to get worse with the weakening of rent regulations…[W]e allow our affordable housing stock to be lost, which is mind-blowing.”