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Affordable housing out of reach for workers earning low wages in Idaho

| July 15, 2021 1:00 AM

Rental prices throughout Idaho continue to exceed renter wages, according to the 2021 Out of Reach report released today by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Idaho’s housing affordability challenge affects many of the state’s small towns and rural communities, forcing households across the state to pay more than they can afford.

“The rising gap between the cost of rent and Idaho’s minimum wage leaves many families housing cost-burdened and one unanticipated financial shortfall away from being unable to pay rent and at imminent risk of eviction. In 2020, many of our neighbors lost employment and were burdened by additional health and/or childcare costs. This left our already vulnerable low-income families in an increasingly precarious financial position and at risk of eviction and homelessness. Calls for rental assistance to our organization tripled beginning in March of 2020 and this heightened demand continues as parts of Idaho see rent prices rising faster than anywhere in the country.” said Hannah Sharp, development manager at Jesse Tree, a nonprofit rental assistance organization.

The Idaho minimum wage has remained $7.25 an hour without an increase since 2009, not keeping pace with the high cost of rental housing. Working minimum wage in Idaho, a wage earner must have 1.9 full-time jobs or work 76 hours per week to

afford a modest one-bedroom apartment and work 2.9 full-time jobs or work 96 hours per week at minimum wage to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

“Rapidly increasing rent prices in Idaho continue to outpace wage growth and affordable homes are increasingly harder to find. Idahoans across the state are feeling this squeeze in the market, and the consequences are far-reaching. When families cannot find homes with affordable rents, they are unable to afford the necessities they need to ensure their households have access to important healthcare services and medications, nutritious food, quality daycare, and other necessities,” said Kendra Knighten, policy associate with the Idaho Asset Building Network. “Ensuring every Idahoan has access to an affordable home is key to ensuring our families, neighbors, and communities are healthy and thriving.”

A home is affordable when rent and utilities cost no more than thirty percent of a household’s income or less. Statewide, the fair market rent for a modest two-bedroom home is $903 per month, which is affordable to Idaho households who earn $36,116 or above annually, or $17.36 per hour. On average, Idaho renter households earn $13.62 per hour.

The report also highlights the “housing wage” for Idaho’s counties by calculating the wage that is necessary to live in a home at an affordable rent. In both Ada and Canyon counties, the housing wage is $19.27, while the average renter wage is $15.67 and $12.11, respectively. Rural counties such as Boise, Owyhee, and Blaine also have housing wages above $19 an hour.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments are capped monthly at $794 for an eligible individual, and at $1,191 for an eligible couple, making rent prices especially challenging for people with this type of income - including seniors and people living with a disability.

“The search for affordable, accessible housing has only become more difficult in recent years for Idahoans with disabilities and their families,” according to Mel Leviton, executive director of the Idaho State Independent Living Council. “We hear daily from people priced out of their housing and desperately searching for something they can afford on a fixed income or low to moderate wage jobs. We talk to people with mental illness, people who are blind, people who use wheelchairs, people with intellectual disabilities, and people with multiple disabilities. People with disabilities are increasingly forced to move further and further from transportation, safe

sidewalks, jobs, schools, and communities they call home. They are often priced out of ground floor apartments or affordable mobile homes and into confining, costly nursing home care. Even people who consider themselves solidly middle income can’t find housing they can afford AND physically use. Where does it end?”

In Idaho, only one in four households who qualify for housing assistance receive it. Congress can ease high rent prices for Idahoans by supporting long-term housing solutions such as: increasing funding for the Housing Choice Voucher program to ensure all eligible families have access to assistance, increasing investments into the

national Housing Trust Fund to build more affordable homes, and the creation of an Emergency Assistance Fund to provide financial assistance and housing stability services to families facing unexpected emergency expenses.

Link to the Out of Reach report:

https://tinyurl.com/6u4t3ump