In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent in Missouri, full-time workers need to earn $16.00 per hour. This is Missouri’s 2019 Housing Wage, revealed in the national Out of Reach report, jointly released this week by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and Empower Missouri. Out of Reach 2019 finds that in no state, metropolitan area, or county can a full-time minimum- wage worker afford a modest two-bedroom rental home at fair market rent. In 99% of counties in the US, a full-time minimum-wage worker cannot afford a one-bedroom rental home at fair market rent.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of this report, and NLIHC notes that housing assistance remains woefully inadequate and has not kept pace with the growing need: only one in four renters who needs housing assistance receives it. The current national shortage of seven million affordable and available homes for renters with extremely low incomes means there are only 37 homes available for every 100 renters with extremely low incomes. We feel this strain in Missouri, where we have only 42 homes available for every 100 renters in that category. This equates to about 113,000 families in Missouri, earning 30% of the Area Median Income, who are unable to access housing affordable to them. Approximately 86% of extremely low-income renters in Missouri are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on housing.
Working at the minimum wage of $8.60/hr in Missouri, a wage earner must have 1.5 full-time jobs or work 59 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment and work 1.9 full-time jobs or work 74 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. The typical renter in Missouri earns $14.72, which is $2.18 less than the hourly wage needed to afford a modest rental home. People we rely on—retail salespersons, fast food workers, personal care aides, and home health aides—can’t afford to pay their rent without spending more than 30% of their income.
Housing affordability is not just a problem for minimum-wage workers. The average renter’s hourly wage is $17.57, or $5.39 below the national two-bedroom Housing Wage, which is the wage a full-time worker needs to earn to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, and $1.08 below the national one-bedroom Housing Wage. Low wages, wage disparities, racial inequalities, and a severe shortage of affordable and available rental homes leave millions of low-wage workers struggling to afford their rent. Over the next decade, this problem could grow. Seven of the top ten occupations projected to grow the most by 2026 pay a median-wage that is less than what a full-time worker needs to afford a modest one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.
People in the U.S. recognize the need for change. In a recent poll commissioned by NLIHC’s Opportunity Starts at Home campaign, 73% of adults say housing is a problem in the area where they live and more than 80% say it is important for their elected leaders to address housing affordability issues. Housing affordability for low-wage workers and other extremely low-income renters is a national challenge, and Out of Reach highlights the need for federal and state level policy solutions to address this challenge. On a federal level, these solutions include a significant increase in resources for the national Housing Trust Fund, adequate federal funds to renew Project-Based Rental Assistance and to repair public housing, expansion of rental assistance like the Housing Choice Voucher program, and changes to the tax code to give renters an opportunity to afford housing through an income-targeted fully-refundable renters’ tax credit. In Missouri we can increase investment in affordable housing, consider market regulation, increase tenant’s rights, and introduce community land trusts to help people with low incomes become property owners.
We as a state cannot afford to have more than 130,000 renter households—many of whom are seniors, people with disabilities, and families with small children—continuing to struggle to make hard choices between housing or other necessities like food, transportation, medical care, and childcare. Federal investments in affordable homes can help families and communities thrive. Research shows that when people live in safe, decent, and accessible homes they can afford, they are better able to find and maintain employment, achieve economic mobility, and stay healthy. We must support bold and sustained commitments that will ensure everyone has a safe, accessible and affordable home.