No matter where in Texas you live, if you earn the minimum wage, you cannot afford your rent.
That’s the harsh reality detailed in Out of Reach 2016, a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). Out of Reach identifies a “housing wage” for each state, county and metropolitan area, the hourly earnings a household needs in order for the average cost of rent and utilities in their area to not exceed 30 percent of their income, the common definition of housing affordability. The report finds that all across Texas (where we are an NLIHC state partner), the housing wage always exceeds the minimum wage and is often more than double.
Texas is one of 21 states that use the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. But Out of Reach finds that in 2016, the average housing wage for a two-bedroom apartment at Texas’ average Fair Market Rent (FMR) is $17.60. That’s more than $10 above the minimum wage, and up nearly a dollar from last year’s housing wage. It means that the average Texas household needs 2.4 minimum wage earners, or 97 hours of minimum wage work per week, in order to keep up with rent. That’s very challenging for a two-parent household and extraordinarily difficult for single parents, people with disabilities, elderly people and many others.
More than 400,000 Texans earn the minimum wage or less, the highest number of any state. All of them, and many other low income residents, are burdened by the cost of housing. And their housing challenges are especially pronounced around our state’s cities:
Every year, the Out of Reach data shows the severity of our state’s affordable housing crisis, yet the problem is only getting worse, and the State of Texas continues to dedicate virtually no resources to affordable housing production. At least this year, the state will receive its first allocation from the new National Housing Trust Fund, a dedicated source of federal funding to expand housing for extremely low income people. Texas will receive less than $5 million from the Trust Fund this year, a fraction of what’s needed to address the chronic shortage of affordable housing that is driving up housing costs for low income families.
But it is a start. And maybe, finally, state and local leaders will use the opportunity presented by the Trust Fund to begin to respond to Texas’ glaring lack of affordability with real investment and action. If we seize this moment, the widening of the housing wage gap could be reversed. Perhaps, in future years, more Texans could find the promise of an affordable home within reach.