A report issued this week shows just how challenging the rental market in Vermont has become. In order to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent in Vermont, full-time workers need to earn $23.68 an hour, or $49,258 annually, according to Out of Reach — a report released jointly by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition.

Vermont’s 2021 Housing Wage — the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford a modest, safe rental home without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs — is truly getting out of reach.

The report covers all states, counties, metropolitan areas, and ZIP codes in the country, highlighting the gap between what renters earn and what it costs to rent. There is no place in the country where minimum wage earners can afford a home at Fair Market Rent without spending more than 30% of their income on housing, it states.

Nationally, one in four renters (10.8 million households) have extremely low incomes, making most market rate apartments out of reach.

According to the report, Vermont has the 16th most expensive housing wage in the nation, and the eighth most expensive housing wage for rural areas. The average Vermont renter earns only $13.83 per hour, which is $9.85 less than the hourly wage needed for a decent place to live. Vermont has the sixth largest affordability gap for renters of any state in the nation (the shortfall between the average renter wage and the two-bedroom housing wage). The report states that our 76,000 renter households are pressed to find affordable places to live.

The report also shows that the average Vermont renter can afford just $719 per month without stretching their budget beyond 30% of their income toward housing costs, but the average statewide two-bedroom rental home has a Fair Market Rent of $1,231 and $979 for a one-bedroom. Vermont’s one-bedroom housing wage is $18.82 per hour.

In addition, the hourly housing wage in the greater metropolitan area of Burlington is $31.31, $7.63 an hour higher than the state average. Rutland County’s hourly housing wage was $17.65; Washington County, $20.88. The lowest hourly housing wage in the state was Essex County at $14.25.

Also of note, someone with a disability living on Supplemental Security Income in Vermont can only afford $254 a month, leaving them $977 short for a two-bedroom rental at Fair Market Rent and $725 short for a one-bedroom rental.

There were extenuating circumstances over the last 16 months, “which has created enormous suffering,” the report notes.

“The public health crisis is not over, but as the country begins to imagine life after COVID, it is imperative that we also address the profound economic fallout for the lowest-income and most marginalized members of our communities. Prior to the pandemic, more than 7.6 million extremely low-income renters were already spending more than half of their limited incomes on housing costs, sacrificing other necessities to do so,” it states. “After a year of job losses, furloughs and limited hours, many of these households will be struggling to an even greater extent than is shown in this report.”

Cindy Reid, chair of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition Steering Committee, said in a prepared statement, “(The report) again illustrates that housing costs are far too high for many Vermont households. The pandemic has only intensified the pressures on low- and moderate-income Vermonters, many of whom have lost wages and are facing an extraordinarily tight rental market statewide. The gap between average wages and the cost of housing is simply too high.”

Reid is correct that federal funds for rental assistance and the construction of new housing will help Vermonters in the long-term, and — as a state — we must continue to invest in housing to increase housing availability, and ensure that assistance equitably reaches low-income Vermonters in order to close the affordability gap.

There are certain priorities necessary to make Vermont a place to live, and if we want more people — more families to move here — we have to do better in the housing and rental markets. Otherwise, our long-term viability may always remain just out of reach.

See www.nlihc.org/oor online to read the full 290-page report.

This editorial first appeared in The Rutland Herald on July 15, 2021.

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