Steepest rents in U.S.
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mary Vorsino
To afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment in 2006, Hawai'i renters had to earn $48,940 a year more than anywhere else in the nation, according to a state-by-state report on housing affordability.
It's the second year in a row Hawai'i has ranked as the most expensive state for renters, topping California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. The report, released last week by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, also shows rents in Hawai'i and nationwide are outpacing wages and pricing out millions of Americans.
Nationally, renters had to earn $33,924 in 2006 to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, the study says.
Hawai'i's "housing wage" or hourly pay needed to rent a two-bedroom apartment for $1,224 a month was $23.53 this year, according to the study. The figure is more than double the average hourly wage for a renter in Hawai'i and more than three times the state's minimum wage of $6.75.
"We don't really have above-average wages, but we have extremely high housing prices," said Lawrence Boyd, a labor economist at the University of Hawai'i Center for Labor Education and Research. "That's why you see this situation with all the people on the beach."
Betty Lou Larson, director of housing programs Catholic Charities Hawai'i, said the report helps illustrate the breadth of the housing crisis in the Islands, and how it affects a broad range of income earners.
She and other housing advocates also said the state has made progress toward relieving the housing crisis, including funnelling more money into the Rental Housing Trust Fund. But, they stressed, long-term solutions are still years and millions of dollars away.
"We have to have a strategy," said Larson, who also is president of the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance board.
Nhi Tran, an AmeriCorps attorney with Legal Aid, said she struggles to make it on her $1,900 monthly earnings. She shares a one-bedroom Kaimuki apartment with a roommate, and has cut all extra expenditures, including cable and a gym membership.
Still, she can barely pay all her bills.
"It mostly goes out the door," she said.
Tran got to Hawai'i from New York about a year and a half ago, and was able to rent her place in Kaimuki for $900 a month.
A few months later, the rent was raised to $1,125.
Tran said she has tried to work a second job, like a lot of her colleagues, but doesn't have the time or the energy. She quit after one day at a clothing retailer. Instead, when she's in particular need, she asks her parents for help.
"People told me the Islands are more expensive," she said, "but I didn't know housing would rival New York."
Maile Shimabukuro, chairwoman of the state Senate Human Services and Housing Committee, said the housing crisis is not easily solvable.
But it is heartening, she said, to see so many talking about it.
"Everyone's becoming acutely aware of the homeless and affordable housing crisis in our state," she said, adding lawmakers will be discussing a slew of housing bills in the upcoming session.
PUSH FOR NEW HOMES
Advocates say adding affordable housing for low- and moderate-income renters will relieve rents for middle-class households.
And, added Faith Action for Community Equity lead organizer Drew Astolfi, building new units is cheaper in the long run than providing shelter, food and transitional services to homeless families.
"The absolute crisis in rental housing is the cause of the homeless problem in Hawai'i," Astolfi said. "If the state wants to fix the homeless problem, they have to fix the affordable housing problem."
The coalition report, called "Out of Reach," bases its "housing wage" on families spending no more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing a standard supported by U.S. Housing and Urban Development officials and housing advocates alike.
Hawai'i has ranked as one of the top 10 most expensive states for renters since 2000, but has only topped the nation in the past two years.
The state's "housing wage" in 2006 increased by $2.43 an hour or $2,540 a year from 2005, according to the report.
Renters on Maui and Kaua'i need to earn the most to afford housing, the study said. Their "housing wage" was $18.33 for a studio at fair market rent, and $23.62 for a two-bedroom apartment.
Big Islanders had the lowest rents in the state, and were able to afford a two-bedroom on $16.81 an hour and a studio on $12.48 an hour.
The low-income housing coalition report tracks rental costs and wages in every state, along with Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. It also shows housing costs in metropolitan areas and counties.
Nationwide, advocates say wages are not increasing with the rising costs of housing. According to the report, more than 88 percent of renters live in cities whose rentals are not affordable.
"Every year it is becoming more difficult for low income families to find decent homes they can afford," said coalition President Sheila Crowley, in a news release issued with the report.
Reach Mary Vorsino at firstname.lastname@example.org.