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Report Shows California Renters Struggling with High Housing Costs

Report Shows California Renters Struggling with High Housing Costs

Housing costs across the country, particularly in California, are rising at such a rate that many renters struggle on a monthly basis to afford somewhere to live. That is the primary finding from a sobering new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach 2015: Low Wages and High Rents Lock Renters Out.

The report determines housing affordability by examining the average monthly rent for a two bedroom apartment, which is $1,386 in California. This number ranks California third among the areas measured by the report, but the top two, Hawaii and the District of Columbia, are considerably smaller in both area and population. In order to afford that level of rent and utilities without paying more than 30% of their income on housing, the average California household must earn an hourly rate, or Housing Wage, of $26.65 for a 40 hour work week. For some perspective, those working minimum wage would have to work 118 hours a week to afford the average two-bedroom rent in California.

There are also dramatic differences between counties in California. In San Francisco County, for instance, the Housing Wage is $39.65 while in Merced County it is $14.60. However, average income also varies substantially between counties, so housing remains equally unaffordable. For example, in San Francisco, a household would need 1.2 full-time jobs at the median wage earned by renters in the county to afford a two-bedroom apartment. In Merced, despite the lower housing costs, a household would need 1.3 full-time jobs at the median wage earned by renters in the county to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

The rising rent rates are having a devastating impact on communities. In a preface to the report, Oregon Governor Kate Brown discussed what the report’s findings represent:

“The last few years have been especially tough for low-income renters as federal funding for housing programs has been cut. Currently, only 25 percent of eligible households receive housing assistance. Out of Reach reveals how difficult it is, year after year, for renters across the country to remain housed. Those who put more than half their income towards rent are forced to choose which bills they can pay, which necessities, food or health care, they will forgo to avoid getting evicted or becoming homeless.“

At CPEHN, we discussed some of the health consequences of being unable to afford housing in our report, The Landscape of Opportunity: Cultivating Health Equity in California. In the report, we discussed how the lack of quality, affordable housing can lead to family stress and related conditions, including hypertension and poor mental health. Also, families who are behind on rent are nearly three times more likely to forego needed medical care and are far more likely to experience food insecurity.

Easing the housing burden will take considerable effort. But as Oregon Governor Brown says, “Solving this problem requires community investment. Housing that meets the needs of individuals and families is an essential part of the infrastructure that builds a strong workforce and sustains local economies.”

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