WASHINGTON – A 40-hour-a-week worker would have to earn $16.82 an hour — more than three times the minimum wage — to be able to afford a modest, two- bedroom apartment in Maryland, according to a report released Wednesday.
The report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition said the “housing wage” in Maryland grew 13 percent from 2001 to 2002, the biggest increase of any state, and made Maryland the seventh-most-expensive state in the nation for renters.
Nationally, the housing wage rose 5 percent over the past year, to $14.66, at a time when the inflation rate was less than 2 percent.
“These numbers translate into startling realities for too many families . . . (who) should not have to choose between rent and food, or rent and medications,” said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., the chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
The study, titled “Out of Reach,” calculates the housing wage annually from data released by the Census Bureau and the Department Housing and Urban Development to demonstrate the gap between minimum wage income and affordable housing.
Sarbanes said Wednesday that the report “has become indispensable . . . for those of us who work on housing policy.”
Others are not as enthusiastic. Andre Neveu, an economist with the Economic Policies Institute, said that the $875 fair-market rent figure that HUD sets for Maryland ignores the fact that 56.5 percent of Maryland renters pay less than $750, according to the 2000 Census.
“The methodology of the study is based on a politicaal agenda,” Neveu said. “Fair-market rates were never really set up to judge what the worst-off people could afford.”
Renters make up 32 percent of Maryland households, according the Census.
Even in non-metropolitan areas of the state, where the housing wage averages $11.86, workers would still have to earn more than twice the $5.15 current minimum wage to make ends meet, according to the study.
Meanwhile, Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties had a housing wage of $19.21 — equivalent to the housing wage in the Washington, D.C., the third-highest in the nation.
Sarbanes said that the problem must be addressed in three ways: through production of new affordable housing, preservation of existing affordable housing and homeownership opportunities for low-income housing.
To the first end, Sarbanes is a co-sponsor of legislation that aims to establish a national housing trust fund to assist states with federal matching funds for the construction of affordable housing.
Affordable housing advocates are hoping that Congress will act on the trust fund bill this month.
“We are incredibly amazed by all the momentum the national housing trust fund has picked up recently,” said NLIHC spokeswoman Kim Schaffer.
A poll commissioned by the housing coalition in August found that 66 percent of likely voters support the establishment of such a fund. A House bill to establish a national housing trust fund has 194 sponsors.
With time running out on this Congress, Sarbanes spoke to the need to act.
“We want to lay the basis for moving (the bill) in the next session if we cannot move it in this one,” he said. “I would like to see a program dedicated to building new rental housing for the poorest Americans enacted into law.”