The U.S. is experiencing a major housing crisis that has largely been ignored. A combination of low wages, rising rents, and increased debt burdens all contribute to the problem. Among areas most impacted, Maryland ranks 7th for highest housing costs and is in need of urgent solutions.
According to a detailed report released earlier this year by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) of a 2-bedroom apartment in Maryland (including rent and utilities) is $1,281 per month and requires an hourly full-time wage of $24.64. However, the average renter only earns $15.71 (and landlords aren’t obligated to abide by FMR). Costs are even higher in the most expensive counties–Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s–requiring an hourly wage of $28.04. For the lowest paid workers, the situation is even worse. A minimum wage worker in Maryland would have to work 3 jobs and 123 hours to afford the Fair Market Rent of a 2-bedroom apartment. The data assumes households spend no more than 30% of their incomes on housing, but the reality is that over half of renters have to do just that. Millennials are particularly hard hit with homeownership among those under 35 at an all-time low while rents are simultaneously on the rise, reaching near peak levels.
Beyond access to rental housing, Maryland home prices are considerably higher than many other areas. The Washington Post reports a household needs annual income of at least $52,662 to buy a home in Baltimore and $77,395 to do so in Washington, D.C. (and likely the surrounding suburbs). Access to housing is essential for long-term success, whether for overcoming homelessness or just starting out after graduation. It becomes increasingly difficult for everyday people to get ahead when they can barely afford their basic needs. Homeownership is the primary means of accumulating wealth and the fact that it is out of reach for so many is a driving factor in growing wealth inequality and specifically the racial wealth gap.
Advocates in Seattle are tackling the issue head-on as affordable housing has become a central issue in the city’s on-going city council race. Affordable housing proponents are pushing an agenda that calls for rent control, imposing linkage fees on developers, and city-issued bonds to pay for housing on behalf of the homeless or those with very low incomes. These are all good ideas, but there are additional community-based alternatives that will allow those struggling to afford adequate housing to find lower cost options. An example is establishing community land trusts–nonprofit organizations that purchase land for the purpose of building and maintaining affordable housing. Nearly 10,000 affordable housing units are currently being provided through the community land trust model.
With so many pressing challenges facing low- and moderate-income people, it will take creative solutions like these to create the equitable economic institutions needed. Our basic needs shouldn’t be left to the whims of the market, especially when even the most educated are not guaranteed a job that pays a living wage. Bold actions must be taken at the community level as well as by government. The current crisis should serve as a call to action for those working to address issues related to housing access because the status quo simply isn’t good enough anymore.
This post was originally published on August 08, 2015 by Progressive Maryland.