Across the U.S., families are unable to find secure, affordable homes. Half of American families who rent are stuck paying amounts that are way too high for their incomes–more than 30 percent of what they earn. Another 11 million households have it even worse, paying more than half their income toward rent. These are married-couple families with children, single parents, elderly people living alone, and young people trying to establish their lives.
It’s not that people aren’t working hard enough: in fact, even working full time, there is no state in the U.S. where a minimum wage earner can afford a modest one-bedroom apartment at the fair market rent. In most of the country, they would need to put in between 60-80 hours a week to afford such a place. In a typical medium-sized town in New York State, like Poughkeepsie, they’d have to work 89 hours– that’s two people working more than 40 hours a week each just to share a simple one-bedroom. (As for New York City? Fuhgeddaboudit.)
And it’s not that people aren’t looking in the right places: there simply aren’t enough affordable homes. The shortage of homes priced for the lowest income levels is so extreme that nationwide, only 35 units are available for every hundred households that need them.
Even if we could line everyone up and hand out front door keys, we’d be 7.4 million short. And every year some of the rentals priced for those at lower incomes disappear from the housing supply, either due to age and damage, or for more complicated reasons related to housing policy. (Every night some 600,000 people are homeless– many holding down jobs all the while– and a quarter of those are kids. Today only one out of four income-eligible renters gets the help they need.
So what do people do? They crowd in with relatives, friends, or strangers. They end up in homes far away from their jobs, sometimes with barely livable conditions: unsafe places without reliable electricity, water, or heat. They make impossible choices: Pay the rent and skip groceries? Cover the phone bill and risk the utilities? What will happen if I don’t refill this prescription? How long will it take to walk to work instead of taking the bus? When there’s not enough money to pay the rent, there’s simply no right answer to these questions.
But here’s some simple math: every 11 seconds another family is evicted. In the few minutes it took you to read these paragraphs, another 16 families were told to leave their homes. Data provided by the government and analyzed in depth by housing experts allows for no other interpretation: America is facing an unprecedented crisis in affordable housing. Something must be done.