Featured photo: National Low-Income Housing Coalition

This story was originally published by Greg Childress, NC Newsline
June 29, 2024

North Carolinians must earn $3.61 more per hour and work more than they did in 2023 to pay for a modest apartment, according to a new National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) report.

The coalition’s 2024 Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing report found that the 2024 “housing wage” for North Carolina is $25.21 per hour, which is an increase of $3.61 an hour when compared to the $21.54 per hour wage a worker needed in 2023 to pay for a modest apartment. North Carolina has the 28th highest housing wage in the nation, according to the report.

Nationally, according to the report, the national housing wage is $32.11 for a modest two-bedroom rental and $26.74 for a modest one-bedroom rental. California has the highest state housing wage at $47.38. North Dakota has the lowest at $18.38

The report highlights the gap between people’s wages and the cost of living in their area. The “housing wage” is an annual estimate of what a full-time worker would have to earn per hour to afford a modest apartment at Fair Market Rent without spending more than 30% of their income on housing.

“So this means with the housing wage of $25.21 an hour, someone earning minimum wage in North Carolina — $7.25 an hour —  would have to work at least 120 hours and three full-time jobs in order to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent or they would have to work almost 140 hours and 3.5 full-time jobs to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent today,” Stephanie Watkins-Cruz, director of housing policy at the N.C. Housing Coalition, said in statement.

Here are the five areas in North Carolina with the highest required housing wages:

  • Asheville — $32.31
  • Raleigh — $31.65
  • Durham-Chapel Hill — $31.37
  • Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia — $29.88
  • Wilmington — $29.13

The report’s authors said that low-wage renters across the nation are often only one missed paycheck or unexpected expense away from not being able to pay their rent.

Key data regarding North Carolina’s housing rental market — Source: National Low-Income Housing Coalition

“Stable, affordable housing is a prerequisite for basic well-being, and no person should live in danger of losing their home,” the authors said. “Addressing the country’s long-term housing affordability crisis requires bridging the gap between rents and incomes by raising wages and expanding Housing Choice Vouchers to all households in need of them. However, due to severe underfunding, just one out of every four income eligible households receives the help it needs from federal housing assistance.”

Only sustained, long-term federal investments in rental housing can ensure that the lowest-income renters have affordable homes, the authors said.

“Congress must recognize the urgent need to fund rental assistance, expand the supply of affordable rental housing, preserve the existing housing stock, provide short-term assistance to renters in crisis, and protect renters from unfair treatment,” they said.

The 2024 Out of Reach report comes the same week the National Housing Law Project, NLIHC and the Tenant Union Federation released a National Tenants Bill of Rights, a policy agenda to strengthen and enforce the rights of renters. Advocates see strengthening tenants’ rights as way to help control rents.

“The National Tenants Bill of Rights would provide historic and unprecedented local, state, and federal protections for renters and improve the systemic power imbalance between landlords and renters that continues to both put renters at increased risk of housing insecurity, eviction, and homelessness, and fuel racial inequity,” Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement.

In North Carolina, a group of tenants’ rights advocates launched the North Carolina Tenants Union (NCTU) in April in hopes of leveling the playing field for tenants. NCTU was created to help tenants fight displacements, win critical housing repairs, stop rapid rent increases, strengthen tenants’ rights and push local officials and state lawmakers to adopt housing rental policies and laws that are fair to tenants, the organizers said.

Other key takeaways from the NLIHC report:

  • Cost-burdened families are left with less money for other basic needs like healthcare, transportation, food, and childcare. Simply put, renters spending more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities aren’t left with enough of their paycheck to cover the other basic necessities.
  • We continue to experience the long-term loss and systemic shortage of affordable housing. There aren’t enough affordable units available to meet the scale of the need. Compounding this problem, affordable rental construction cannot keep pace with the number of affordable units lost each year.
  • The high cost of housing impacts some communities more severely than others. As a result of wage disparities, Black and Latino workers face larger gaps between their wages and the cost of rental housing than white workers. Women also face wage disparities that make it difficult to access housing, and these inequities are only further amplified for Black and Latina women.
  • Criminalizing homelessness while rents are out of reach is counterproductive. Ticketing, fining, and arresting people for not having a home only hinders their ability to access services needed. Congress must address the homelessness crisis by embracing Housing First – the most effective approach for reducing homelessness.
  • Federal policies and resources play a pivotal role in establishing a robust housing safety net. Congress must provide long-term support to extremely low-income families by making substantial investments in deeply targeted affordable housing programs like Housing Choice Vouchers, the national Housing Trust Fund, and Public Housing. Strengthened tenant protection policies and policies that embrace the Housing First approach are also critical in promoting housing stability and reducing homelessness.

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: [email protected]. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and X.

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