(WWLP) – Rental housing has become increasingly unaffordable, making it difficult for average workers to maintain their standard of living.
A new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalitions says there are zero states left where a minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment. According to their research, the average U.S. worker must earn just over $25 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment and just over $20 an hour for a one-room.
The minimum wage in Massachusetts is currently $14.25 per hour, with plans to increase to $15 over the next few years. However, research shows that to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Massachusetts, you need to be making just over $37 per hour, assuming you are an individual who has a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year.
Rental prices across western Massachusetts
In comparison with Berkshire and Franklin Counties, Hampden and Hampshire Counties have lower rental housing prices.
22News spoke to American International College Professor of Economics, John Rogers on his thoughts about the average American worker not being able to afford apartment rental prices. “Experts tend to define an acceptable housing expense as being no more than 30% of income,” said Rogers. “This means that someone making $15 per hour would be able to afford rent payments in the range of $800 per month maximum. In most housing markets this sort of rent would be hard to find. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that renters would need more than one income – roommate or family member – to afford a reasonable place to live.”
Rogers discusses how student debt may be preventing young people from taking the steps needed to build a solid savings plan that would lead to independent living or home ownership. “If money is going out the door every month to service loans, these former students may never have enough breathing space to start saving coherently and systematically for a house or a better rental unit. There are financial, political, and moral reasons why debt forgiveness is not a great idea, but it may be a necessary component of the solution to a serious housing crisis,” expressed Rogers. “I think President Biden is using postponement as a political gambit leading up to the mid-term elections, but there needs to be a more reasoned approach that winds up providing the best solution for the economy as a whole as well as for the indebted students. I believe there is a provision being floated that would forgive the first $10,000 of debt with some sliding scale thereafter. It deserves serious consideration.”
Keeping up with the cost of living these days has also been made more difficult by higher food prices. A plan provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, released in May could help average workers save on food. The plan focuses on a nutritious, practical, cost-effective diet.
Rogers advises that budgeting and examining your routine expenses carefully could help to reduce anything not essential. Since it is common for people to also subscribe to magazines or join memberships they rarely use or need. Nonetheless, Rogers says none of these tactics can solve the fundamental problem of housing not being affordable for most people.
According to Rogers, there seems to be rising pressure from the rising cost of housing even with a careful budget. “Already, an estimated 17 million Americans spend half or more of their income on housing, which does not leave them with room to manage these other expenses,” he said.
The final solution in Roger’s opinion is an increase in the housing supply. “Even before the pandemic, there was an estimated shortage of 3.9 million housing units in the US. Housing is a major component of inflation with rents up an estimated 12-14% over the past year, and higher in many markets,” he added. “Even places that used to be affordable such as Texas or Utah are seeing jumps in prices. States and communities are having to take a hard look at zoning restrictions that limit supply. New home construction dropped off following the Recession of 2008 and has never picked up since then. It is ultimately a question of supply and demand.”
Roger explains what improvements could be made to the economy to help the chances of a single American worker afford an apartment. “States need to examine zoning restrictions – as is happening now in Massachusetts and Connecticut – and the Federal government needs to create incentives for banks to facilitate home investment,” he said. “However, we also need to avoid falling into a practice of selling homes to people who cannot afford them – a practice which was at the root of the 2008 recession.”