Affordability Upturn Does Little for Low-Wage Workers
Despite improvements in housing affordability, workers in the five highest-growth occupations — registered nurses, retail salespersons, customer service representatives, food preparation workers and office clerks — still have a hard time in being able to afford to buy or rent a home, according to the latest “Paycheck to Paycheck: Wages and the Cost of Housing in America” study by the Center for Housing Policy, the research affiliate of the National Housing Conference.
The study found that the amount of income needed to purchase the median-price home dipped in 161 of the 201 markets studied. Some of the biggest drops occurred in the largest, most expensive markets in California, Washington, D.C., Arizona and Florida.
“Yet, in almost all cases, affordability problems persist,” the study found. “Only a handful of markets previously not affordable to registered nurses, customer service representatives and office clerks were affordable to those workers in 2007. In the majority of markets, homeownership remains unaffordable for these occupations, while for retail salespersons and food preparation workers, homeownership is out of reach in all markets studied.”
The study weighed the median annual income of workers in 60 occupations against median home prices. Among the results for the five highest-growth occupations:
- Even registered nurses, with relatively higher salaries, were unable to purchase a median-priced home in 108 markets, a marginal improvement from the 114 metro markets that were unaffordable in 2006.
- In the second highest-paying occupation of the five, customer service representatives could not afford to buy a home in 185 of the markets.
- Retail sales persons and food preparation workers were priced out of all 201 markets, as they were in 2006.
- Office clerks were shut out of homeownership opportunities in 196 markets.
While it was a more affordable alternative for a greater range of workers, rental housing continued to represent a struggle for low-wage occupations in many metro areas:
- Without paying an excessive portion of their income for housing, retail salespersons and food preparation workers could not afford the rent on a two-bedroom apartment in any of the 210 markets examined in the rental portion of the study.
- Office clerks could not afford to rent in 94 markets.
- Faring much better, customer service representatives were priced out of only 41 metro markets and registered nurses were able to rent everywhere.
In coordination with release of the study, the Center for Housing Policy also launched HousingPolicy.org, a new easy-to-use online guide focused on high-impact solutions for solving the nation’s housing challenges at the state and local level. The guide provides information on a broad range of state and local housing policy tools, as well as guidance on how to put individual policies together into a comprehensive housing strategy.
“We hear a lot about the ‘information economy, but the fact is most working families are still employed in traditional service occupations,” said Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the center. “In many metro areas, these families continue to face home prices and rents that are beyond their means, and as a result, employers have a difficult time attracting a quality workforce. To help communities respond, HousingPolicy.org provides states and localities with a guide to proven strategies for increasing the supply of homes affordable to working families.”