A new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) found that Vermont’s “housing wage” – the hourly wage our neighbors must earn to afford a two-bedroom home at fair market rent (FMR) – is $22.78. The report, Out Of Reach, provides rich context and data that show a mismatch between the cost of living and wages that extends far beyond Vermont across the rest of the country.
To put $22.78 into context, the average renter in Vermont earns $13.40 an hour, which is $9.38 less than the housing wage. The average renter can afford just $697 a month for their housing costs without spending more than 30% of their income, while the statewide fair market rent for a two-bedroom home is $1,184 a month and $945 for a one-bedroom. Taken together, Vermont has the 6th largest affordability gap for renters in the country.
The problem is worse when we consider Vermont’s minimum wage, which falls at $10.78. Someone earning minimum wage in Vermont must work 85 hours a week – the equivalent of 2.1 full-time jobs – to afford a two-bedroom apartment, or 67 hours a week – 1.7 full-time jobs – for a one-bedroom apartment. In no state in the country can a minimum wage renter working a 40-hour week afford a two-bedroom home.
The chart below shows the median hourly wage according to an NLIHC analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics for Vermont’s ten most common professions in comparison to the one-bedroom housing wage, two-bedroom housing wage, and the Burlington Metropolitan Area two-bedroom housing wage. According to the data, only Registered Nurses can afford the two-bedroom housing wage with the median occupational wage.
All of this is to say that something is amiss among our communities, both locally and across the country. As the cost of rental housing continues to outpace wages, our neighbors are forced to live far from where they work to make ends meet. Many of our neighbors can’t afford an unexpected $400 expense, meaning that they are just one step away from spiraling into homelessness. People on fixed income, like seniors on Social Security, can’t live anywhere in Vermont without some form of housing assistance. Our leaders at the local, state, and federal level need to redouble their efforts to solve the collective problem of high housing costs in order to retain the social and economic vitality of where we live.
In Burlington, where the two-bedroom housing wage is nearly $30, more and more of our neighbors find themselves moving farther away – sometimes out of Chittenden County – to live comfortably on their wage. The effects of the mismatch between housing costs and wages are not limited to those who can no longer live in our communities, as the ripple effect of increased commuters and other mismatches affect us all. If our communities take steps to sync local incomes with local housing costs, people will live closer to where they work and our communities will be stronger for it.
We have all the information we need to ensure that everyone can afford a decent and safe place to live. All we need to do is act on it.