Southeast part of state least affordable for Pa. renters, national report says

    Rents in Philadelphia are the highest in Pennsylvania. (NewsWorks file)

    Rents in Philadelphia are the highest in Pennsylvania. (NewsWorks file)

    Three times Pennsylvania’s minimum wage adds up to less than $23.27 an hour.

    That’s roughly how much you’d have to earn to afford rent for an average two-bedroom apartment in Southeast Pennsylvania, according to a new report by the the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

    Beneath those numbers is a more complex picture.

    Every year, the coalition frames actual rental costs in terms of minimum and median wages. In the advocacy group’s 27 years of issuing the report, the outcome is rarely surprising, said CEO Diane Yentel.

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    “This year’s report, like every one before it, shows a significant gap. Everywhere,” she said. The report attributes that gap to a combination of long-term wage stagnation and increasing income inequality.

    Each year, the report offers statistics — like that $23.27 per hour rate — that aim to put a handle on the big, messy problem of housing affordability. (In New Jersey, a renter would have to earn $26.52 to afford a two-bedroom apartment, while an earner in Delaware would have to make  $21.70 an hour to rent such accommodations.) 

    But using numbers from the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, however, paints this region with a very broad brush.

    HUD averages out rents across the five-county Philadelphia area to determine “fair market rent,” treating the entire Philadelphia metro area as one homogeneous unit in terms of rental prices. The coalition then uses that number to calculate affordability, assuming people will spend only 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities.

    Neither of those assumptions accurately reflects how people spend money on rental housing in the region.

    “The [cheaper] rents in Philadelphia, especially, and in some parts of Delaware County and even Montgomery County skew the fair market rents lower than they actually are,” said Dale Gravett, executive director of the Housing Authority of Chester County. 

    That means low-income residents of more high-cost parts of the region — including much of Chester County — end up paying a much higher proportion of their income on rent, and the government housing subsidies don’t go nearly as far, said Gravett.

    As a result, clusters of voucher holders overlap with small pockets of cheap rental properties in all five counties. The federal voucher program provides rent and utility help for those with very low incomes.

    They’re not making anywhere close to $23.27 an hour.

    “My Section 8 voucher holders, their average income is $14,000 a year,” said Gravett. “It’s below minimum wage.”

    After the Philadelphia region, the second-least affordable area for low-income people was Pike County, covering part of the vacation-rental heavy Poconos.

    According to the report, the metropolitan areas where housing costs were most attainable for minimum-wage earners were Johnstown and the municipalities in Armstrong County.

    Nationally, many of the usual suspects continue to rank high on unaffordability — Hawaii, California, New York, Maryland and New Jersey are the top five.

    This year, states will finally see some monies from the long-awaited National Housing Trust Fund, a new HUD program, to fill in gaps in affordable housing funding. The federal government created the fund back in 2008, according to HUD secretary Julian Castro, and states will begin to receive at least $3 million apiece this summer.

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