In order to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent in Vermont, full-time workers need to earn $23.68 an hour, or $49,258 annually. This is Vermont’s 2021 Housing Wage, revealed in a national report released today. The report, Out of Reach, was released jointly by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), a research and advocacy organization dedicated solely to achieving affordable and decent homes for the lowest income people, and the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition (VAHC).
Every year, Out of Reach reports on the Housing Wage, the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford a modest, safe rental home without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs. The report covers all states, counties, metropolitan areas, and ZIP codes in the country, highlighting the gap between what renters earn and what it costs to rent. There is no place in the country where minimum wage earners can afford a home at Fair Market Rent without spending more than 30% of their income on housing.
This year, we release the Out of Reach report 16 months into a devastating pandemic, which has created enormous suffering. In addition to the lives lost, COVID-19 also created an economic crisis that pushed millions of low-wage workers out of work. The public health crisis is not over, but as the country begins to imagine life after COVID, it is imperative that we also address the profound economic fallout for the lowest-income and most marginalized members of our communities. Prior to the pandemic, more than 7.6 million extremely low-income renters were already spending more than half of their limited incomes on housing costs, sacrificing other necessities to do so. The average the average renter wage and median renter household income for the 2021 Out of Reach report are estimated by projecting from the five-year 2015-2019 ACS data, so it does not take into account the economic downturn of 2020. After a year of job losses, furloughs, and limited hours, many of these households will be struggling to an even greater extent than is shown in this report.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said: “Each year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition provides invaluable data that reinforces what we already know: Here in Vermont, housing is scarce, and too expensive for too many. Throughout the pandemic, I heard from Vermonters that when housing is out of reach, so are health, employment and education. As Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee I am committed to advocating for resources to build much-needed housing, provide housing services, and support creative solutions to our nation’s affordable housing crisis.”
Across the country, a renter needs to earn $24.90 per hour to afford a modest two-bedroom rental home without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs, or $20.40 per hour to afford a one-bedroom home. While the Housing Wage varies by state and metropolitan area, low-wage workers everywhere struggle to afford their housing.
Vermont has the 16th most expensive housing wage in the nation, and the 8th most expensive housing wage for rural areas. The average Vermont renter earns only $13.83 per hour, which is $9.85 less than the hourly wage needed to afford a safe, decent place to live. Vermont has the 6th largest affordability gap for renters of any state in the nation (the shortfall between the average renter wage and the two-bedroom housing wage). Our 76,000 renter households are pressed to find affordable places to live.
The average Vermont renter can afford just $719 per month without stretching their budget beyond 30 percent of their income towards housing costs, but the average statewide two-bedroom rental home has a Fair Market Rent of $1,231 and $979 for a one-bedroom. Vermont’s one-bedroom Housing Wage is $18.82 per hour.
“It is absolutely unacceptable to me that someone should have to work two jobs or pay over half their income to afford a decent place to live,” said Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). “We need more housing that everyday working Vermonters can afford. There is no question in my mind that housing is a basic human right. That is why, as Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, I am fighting to invest major new resources into building and renovating more permanently affordable homes so all our people can have safe, stable housing for their families.”
The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour without an increase since 2009, not keeping pace with the high cost of rental housing. In no state, even those where the minimum wage has been set above the federal standard, can a minimum-wage renter working a 40-hour work week afford a modest two-bedroom rental unit at the average fair market rent. At Vermont’s current minimum wage of $11.75, a wage earner must have 2 full-time jobs or work 81 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment and have 1.6 full-time jobs or work 64 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment.
Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) said, “One of the most pressing challenges for Vermonters is the lack of affordable housing. This critical need is too often out of reach for working Vermonters. I appreciate Vermont’s housing advocates for their leadership and work in shining a light on this affordability gap. As we make our way out of this pandemic, I will continue to advocate in Congress for increased investment in affordable housing programs to eliminate this gap for Vermont’s working families.”
The struggle to afford modest apartments is not limited to minimum wage workers. Of the ten most common jobs in Vermont according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only Registered Nurses and Bookkeepers/Accountants/Auditing Clerks have average wages higher than the one-bedroom Housing Wage. Seniors and others living on fixed incomes can’t usually afford housing without a subsidy.
Cindy Reid, Chair of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition Steering Committee, said, “The 2021 Out of Reach report again illustrates that housing costs are far too high for many Vermont households. The pandemic has only intensified the pressures on low-and-moderate income Vermonters, many of whom have lost wages and are facing an extraordinarily tight rental market statewide. The gap between average wages and the cost of housing is simply too high. Federal funds for rental assistance and the construction of new housing will help, and we must continue to invest in housing to increase housing availability, and ensure that assistance equitably reaches low-income Vermonters in order to close the affordability gap.”
VAHC applauds Governor Phil Scott and State lawmakers for allocating significant federal and state funding to housing needs in Vermont during this legislative session. It’s critical that these funding sources remain flexible to address both the housing shortage for low to moderate income Vermonters, and to address affordability and conditions of existing housing stock.
The full report is available at www.nlihc.org/oor. Additional findings from Out of Reach:
• The national Housing Wage is $24.90 for a two-bedroom home and $20.40 for a one-bedroom. This is an increase over 2020’s national Housing Wage of $23.96 for a two-bedroom home and $19.56 for a one-bedroom.
• Nationally, 1 in 4 renters (10.8 million households) have extremely low incomes, making most market rate apartments out of reach.
• Vermont has the 16th highest Housing Wage in the nation.
• Vermont has the 8th highest Housing Wage for rural (non-metro) areas.
• The hourly Housing Wage in the greater metropolitan area of Burlington is $31.31, $7.63 an hour higher than the state average.
• Someone with a disability living on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in Vermont can only afford $254 a month, leaving them $977 short for a two-bedroom rental at Fair Market Rent and $725 short for a one-bedroom rental.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) is dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that ensures people with the lowest incomes in the United States have affordable and decent homes. www.nlihc.org.
The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition (VAHC) is a statewide membership organization dedicated to ensuring that all Vermonters have safe, adequate, physically accessible and affordable housing. www.vtaffordablehousing.org.