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Low-wage earners can't afford Arizona housing

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Low-wage earners can't afford Arizona housing

  • The National Low Income Housing Coalition

Arizonans have to earn $17.52 an hour, more than twice the minimum wage, to afford a typical two-bedroom home without spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent, a new report says.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2014 Out of Reach report, released Monday, put Arizona in the top 20 most-expensive states for rental housing.

Topping the list were Hawaii, the District of Columbia, California and Maryland, where residents would have to earn nearly $25 per hour or more to be able to rent a two-bedroom apartment on 30 percent of their income.

While Hawaiians would have to earn $31.54 an hour, by the coalition’s calculation, Puerto Rico residents have to earn the least at $10.19 an hour – still higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Valerie Iverson, executive director of the Arizona Housing Alliance, said the new report “really shines the light on the struggles of many hardworking families in Arizona.”

“Everyone always thinks Arizona doesn’t have an affordable housing problem,” Iverson said.

While people may see many apartment complexes, she said they don’t realize that those apartments aren’t affordable for “those at the bottom” – extremely low-income earners who make just 30 percent of an area’s median income.

Coconino County had the state’s highest “housing wage” – the wage necessary to rent a two-bedroom home for 30 percent of income – at $19.63 an hour. Greenlee and Apache counties had Arizona’s lowest at $12.25.

Arizona’s minimum hourly wage rose to $7.90 on Jan. 1 – too low for a one- or two-bedroom apartment in any Arizona county, but enough for a studio apartment in Apache and Graham counties at 30 percent of income, according to NLIHC data.

The Arizona Housing Alliance said in a 2013 report that access to affordable housing units in Arizona was second-worst of any state, topped only by Nevada. The report, using 2011 data, said there were only 18 available affordable housing units for every 100 extremely-low-income households.

“We really have a shortage of housing for those most in need,” Iverson said.

Daniel Romm, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Housing, said in an email that “the need for affordable housing remains at a premium and it is something that we must continue to address.”

But he also said “the latest news and trends regarding the housing market within the state have been encouraging.”

Romm pointed to the state’s low-income housing tax credit program and its work with disabled Arizonans as examples of steps in the right direction. He also noted that the housing department is working to reduce homelessness in veteran populations and is working to meet the demand for more affordable housing near public transit.

Since the National Low Income Housing Coalition began publishing its annual report on the wages needed to afford decent housing 25 years ago, the situation facing those in extreme poverty has continually gotten worse, said coalition President Sheila Crowley. She pointed to the growing gap between the minimum wage and the wage necessary to afford decent housing.

“The gap is everywhere. It’s not just in big cities. It’s in every state,” Crowley said during a conference call Monday to release the new report. “Suffice it to say, it gets worse every year.”

When rent makes a dent

In order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair-market rent without spending more than 30 percent of income on housing, an Arizonan must earn the following hourly wage in these counties:

  • Coconino County: $19.63
  • Maricopa County: $18.40
  • Pinal County: $18.40
  • Pima County: $16.38
  • Cochise County: $15.92
  • Yuma County: $15.62
  • Yavapai County: $15.08
  • Mohave County: $14.40
  • Gila County: $13.90
  • Santa Cruz County: $12.79
  • La Paz County: $12.75
  • Navajo County: $12.71
  • Graham County: $12.42
  • Greenlee County: $12.25
  • Apache County: $12.25

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