COVID-19 provides a stark reminder that affordable housing is a public health issue as well as a moral imperative. When households cannot afford their rent, they cannot afford to shelter in place or self-isolate, which puts them and everyone else at greater risk. Empower Missouri is encouraging our network to reach out to Senators Blunt and Hawley about the urgent need for housing and nutrition assistance in any coming federal COVID response package.
This week, our partners at The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) published their annual report, Out of Reach 2020. The data highlights the severity of this problem: in no state, metropolitan area, or county can a full-time worker making minimum wage afford a modest two-bedroom rental home at fair market rent. In 95% of counties in the US, including all Missouri counties, a full-time minimum-wage worker cannot afford a one-bedroom rental home at fair market rent.
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. Currently there is a national shortage of seven million affordable and available homes for renters with extremely low incomes. For every 100 renters with extremely low incomes, there are only 36 affordable and available homes. Approximately 71% of renters with extremely low-incomes are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on housing. The pandemic, which has caused sudden and unprecedented increases in unemployment, has increased the need for housing assistance even further.
Housing affordability is not just a problem for minimum-wage workers. The average renter’s hourly wage in Missouri is $15.28. This is lower than the two-bedroom Housing Wage. A full-time worker needs to take home more money to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent. The average renter’s wage is $4.28 below the national one-bedroom Housing Wage.
The high cost of housing is a racial justice issue as well. Due to historical and ongoing racial discrimination, people of color are more likely than white people to be renters, and higher proportions of Black and Latino households are housing cost-burdened and have extremely low-incomes. The economic downturn sparked by the pandemic has likely exacerbated these racial disparities. Black and Latino workers are overrepresented in accommodations, food services and social assistance occupations, which are industries that saw extraordinary job losses in the spring. When the unemployment rate for white workers began to fall in May, it did not do so for Black workers. As a result of these disparities, low-wage Black and Latino workers will especially struggle to afford their rent.
An overwhelming majority of Americans want the government to invest in housing. In a recent poll commissioned by NLIHC’s Opportunity Starts at Home campaign, 87% of adults say that elected leaders should take major action to ensure everyone has stable, affordable housing during the pandemic, and 93% favor providing rental assistance for people struggling as a result of the crisis.
The lack of housing affordable to workers with low-wages and others with extremely low-incomes is solvable – during and after COVID-19. First, to prevent a wave of evictions in the coming months, Congress must implement a national eviction moratorium for the duration of the pandemic and provide at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to keep renters stably housed. Then, Congress must make sustained and substantial investments in long term solutions through the National Housing Trust Fund, expand Housing Choice Vouchers and make repairs to our nation’s public housing stock.
The lack of affordable homes for people with the lowest incomes is one of our country’s most urgent challenges; it’s also among the most easily solved. We lack only the political will to fund the solutions at the scale necessary. It’s time for Congress to act!
Policy and Organizing Manager