A report released this week only confirms what we have already come to know: Finding a place to rent in Vermont is nearly impossible.
Our state is symptomatic of a national problem, however.
In order to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment at the fair market rent in Vermont, renters need to earn $22.78 an hour, or $47,375 annually. That is considered the 2019 housing wage for Vermont.
The figure was part of “Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing” that was jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a research and advocacy organization dedicated solely to achieving affordable and decent homes for the lowest-income people, and the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition.
Each 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.
What the report found is the average renter in Vermont earns $13.40 an hour, which is $9.38 less than the hourly wage needed to afford a safe, decent place to live. They can afford just $697 a month for their housing costs, while the average statewide fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,184 a month and $945 a month for a one-bedroom. Vermont’s one-bedroom housing wage is $18.18 an hour.
At Vermont’s current minimum wage of $10.78, a wage earner must have 2.1 full-time jobs or work 85 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment, and have 1.7 full-time jobs or work 67 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment. In no state, even those where the minimum wage is above $7.25, can a minimum-wage renter working a 40-hour week afford a modest two-bedroom rental home.
With over 76,214 renter households, Vermont has the sixth-largest affordability gap for renters of any state in the nation.
Additional findings from Out of Reach:
— The national housing wage is $22.96 for a two-bedroom home and $18.65 for a one-bedroom.
— Vermont is the ninth-most-expensive state for rural (non-metro) areas.
— Vermont is the 16th-most-expensive state in the nation for renters.
— The housing wage in the greater metropolitan area of Burlington is $29.69, fully $6.91 an hour higher than the state average. (The second-highest housing wage was Washington County, at $19.92. Rutland County came in at $18.06.)
Someone with a disability living on Supplemental Security Income can only afford $247 a month, leaving them $937 short for a two-bedroom and $698 short for a one-bedroom rental.
The struggle to afford modest apartments is not limited to minimum-wage workers. Of the 10 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 afford housing anywhere in the state without a subsidy.
According to a news release on the annual report, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said: “Each year the NLIHC Out of Reach report reminds us that we must remain sharply focused on increasing the affordability of housing in Vermont. A single mother with a minimum-wage job should not have to work 85 hours each week to afford a home for herself and her children.”
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, added: “Far too many Americans are working long hours at low wages and can’t afford a decent, safe place to live. Here in Vermont, we see renters paying 50, 60 and even 70 percent of their income for their housing, leaving little for other basic necessities.
“This important report makes it clear that we have our work cut out for us,” said U.S. Rep. Peter Welch.
The state made progress with the 2017 Housing Bond, but we must continue and continue investments — public and private — in affordable-housing creation, rental subsidies, and supportive services for our most vulnerable citizens.
Housing should not be out of reach for anyone. Yet this report suggests rental housing is a struggle for almost everyone who needs it. That’s wrong.