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Report: Renters need to earn nearly $30 hourly to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in CT

Cutline: Connecticut’s Housing Divide
Julianne Varacchi
Connecticut Public
The Rockview apartments, an affordable housing community in New Haven, CT on April 9, 2021.

The wage Connecticut residents need to afford rental housing in the local market is one of the highest in the country, according to the latest annual report from The National Low Income Housing Coalition, which tracks housing affordability for minimum wage workers.

The report found residents would need to earn $27.80 — about twice Connecticut's current minimum wage of $14 — in order to afford a fairly-priced two bedroom apartment of about $1500 a month.

“Someone working full time hours at $14 an hour is a far cry from that. They essentially have to work two full time jobs in order to afford an apartment,” said Sean Ghio, the senior policy advisor for the Partnership for Strong Community, which partners with NLIHC for the annual report.

The coalition tracks housing wages, or what a person needs to earn hourly in order to afford rental housing in the local market. The idea is a household should not be spending more than 30% of their income on all housing costs including utilities – a standard set by the federal government. But with rents skyrocketing across the state by more than 10% year over year, that’s a hard challenge for most low-income renters.

A fairly priced two-bedroom apartment in Connecticut is about $1,500 a month according to the federal government. In order to afford that by government standards, a household would have to earn about $5,000. But a minimum wage worker on one full-time salary earns about half that.

“The rent always eats first, people are going to do what they have to do to keep a roof over their head. And if that means they forgo meals, that’s what they’re going to do, because they don’t want to be homeless,” Ghio said.

With such a high housing wage and other essentials like childcare and healthcare, he says more residents are put at risk of homelessness. NLIHC finds service workers, manual labor workers and some health care assistants are affected the most by the high rents, as the medium hourly wage for those jobs are below the housing wage.

Some areas are even more expensive

The report shows Connecticut ranks 10th in the country for states with the highest housing wages –and the number grows even higher in certain areas of the state.

A household must earn $42.88 an hour to afford a two bedroom apartment in the Stamford-Norwalk area of Fairfield County at nearly $2,300 a month. The area saw the biggest jump of about $5 in housing wage compared to the 2021 report – making it the most expensive area in the state.

Ghio said the year-over-year jump doesn’t surprise him.

“It’s a part of the state where we’ve seen population growth and we have consistent long-standing resistance to new housing construction, whether it’s apartments or single family homes the result is that they get more expensive,” he added.

According to the 2020 Census, Fairfield County saw a population increase of more than 40,000 residents compared to 2010 all while affordable housing is a contentious issue.

Nearly 40% of residents in the area are renters and the National Association of Realtors finds homeownership is becoming more and more out of reach. The result: people who have called the area their home could be pushed out and forced to leave.

Plan of action?

Housing construction is a must, Ghio said, because Connecticut lacks nearly 90,000 units for its lowest-income renters. But for now, he said another viable solution is upping the amount of state and local housing choice vouchers, which can help renters cover all or some of their housing costs.

“It’s one of the primary and best resources for lower income households to find housing and afford housing,” Ghio said. “The beauty of it is that it’s based upon need. If I don’t have much income and I have a voucher, my landlord is able to get quite a large part of the rent paid though it. But then if I get a better job, the value of my voucher goes down and that excess money can be used for another voucher holder.”

The state’s Rental Assistance Program (RAP), or housing voucher program, is currently closed to new applicants due to high demand. The program will open its waitlist when most people have been served, according to the program's website. This past legislative session, the state allocated $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars towards the program.

Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.
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