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Housing Costs Lifting Rentals Out of Reach
by Stephen Ohlemacher    The Guardian
Entered into the database on Tuesday, December 13th, 2005 @ 16:01:44 MST


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The cost of rental housing has increased faster than wages, making it increasingly difficult for low-income families to afford even modest apartments, an advocacy group said Tuesday.

``The picture is similar to past years, but it's getting worse,'' said Danilo Pelletiere, research director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The coalition, which advocates for more affordable housing, issues a report each year tracking rental costs in every state, county and metropolitan area in the country.

It says families should spend no more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing and utilities, a standard recognized by many housing experts. Under that standard, the coalition said it could not find a single county in the United States where a full-time worker making minimum wage could afford a one-bedroom apartment.

In reality, the report found, many low-income families spend a far larger share of their incomes on housing.

Hawaii is the state with the most expensive rental costs, followed by California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. California also had eight of the 10 most expensive counties for rental housing, led by Marin County, near San Francisco.

West Virginia had the most affordable rents, followed by Arkansas, North Dakota, Alabama and Mississippi.

Nationally, families have to make an average of $15.78 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment, while spending no more than 30 percent of their earnings on housing costs. That is up from $15.37 a year ago.

The federal minimum wage, at $5.15 an hour, was last increased in 1997. Fifteen states have minimum wages higher than the federal level.

Sheila Crowley, president of the housing coalition, said rising housing costs have forced many families to ``double up,'' moving multiple families into apartments designed for only one.

``You've got a family living in the garage and another living in the basement, that kind of thing,'' Crowley said.

She said the low-income housing market will be grim for many victims of Hurricane Katrina. A federal judge ruled Monday that a federal program that is putting up tens of thousands of Katrina victims in hotels must be extended by a month, to Feb. 7.

The coalition analyzed data from the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to track wages and rents.

The report found that the costs of heating fuel and utilities increased by 13 percent in the past year, contributing to much of the increase in renter costs.

``There are a high percentage of people that don't get by,'' said Chris Bender of Housing California, which advocates for more low-income housing.

Many low-income people are forced to choose between paying rent, buying medicine, or providing books for their children, Bender said.

``How do people like that have holidays?'' Bender asked. ``They probably don't.''