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Renters Struggle To Afford Steep Housing Costs, Report Finds

Over the weekend Vermont Public Radio spoke with our coordinator Erhard Mahnke to discuss the Out of Reach Report and the struggle to find affordable housing in Vermont:

Andrea Craft is looking for a new place to live. But she’s not having much luck. “Most of the time I don’t even really get the chance to apply for the apartment because people won’t respond to my attempts to contact them,” she says. A few things about Craft. One: She’s a college student. Two: She’s a single mom. Three: She receives rental assistance in the form of a Section 8 voucher. She says when landlords learn those last two facts, they stop returning her calls. “I have in the past actually created another email address and made up a story like, ‘Oh, I’m a college student looking for an apartment,'” remembers Craft. “And they respond immediately.” She says this has happened five or six times. Craft is currently looking for a two-bedroom apartment to share with her four-year-old daughter. As a student at Champlain College, she’s lived in Burlington. But she say’s she’s open to looking for a home farther from the city. A new report titled “Out of Reach 2015,” finds that many other Vermonters are also struggling to find affordable rental housing. The state was ranked as the 13th most expensive in the country. The report estimated a Fair Market Rent of $1,075 for a two-bedroom apartment. Erhard Mahnke is the coordinator of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, the group that released the report locally. He says that figure is based on a modest apartment in an older building. He points out that many new apartments are priced much higher, particularly in Burlington. “Average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in a newly constructed development in and around Burlington is about $1,900,” he says. He says those new developments can affect housing costs in nearby areas. “They have a tendency to set the market-wide rent as what is affordable,” Manhnke says. “That’s one of the reasons why there’s some concern among affordable housing advocates that if there’s a lot of new, market-rate construction, and it all comes in at this $1,900 average, that’s going to set the standard for the entire market.” The report also looked at how much a family must earn, working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, to be able to afford the rent and utilities in the private housing market. “It’s an affordability crisis. I think it’s driving our homeless numbers.” – Erhard Mahnke, Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition In Vermont, that’s an average of a little over $20 per hour, or over $43,000 per year. Vermont’s minimum wage is $9.15 an hour. That means 2.3 minimum wage workers in the household would need to work full time. One minimum wage worker would need to clock 90 hours per week. That means many Vermonters pay a disproportionate share of their income toward rent. Mahnke says that puts Vermonters in a dangerous situation. “I think it means more families in crisis in the state of Vermont,” he says. “It’s an affordability crisis. I think it’s driving our homeless numbers.” And housing assistance like the kind Andrea Craft receives is at a premium in the state, often with long waiting lists. Mahnke says greater investments in affordable housing are needed at both the federal and state levels. Nationally, the report found that no renter working full-time at minimum wage can afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.

To view the full article, including audio, click here. To read more about the 2015 Out of Reach Report, click here.

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