Housing costs strain budgets for low-income workers in PA

A one-bedroom apartment may not seem like much, but in many cases it’s too much to afford for a worker earning minimum wage in Pennsylvania.

The Washington Post dug into the data released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition in its annual Out of Reach report, which focuses on the affordability of two-bedroom apartments, to show that downsizing to a single bedroom still poses a challenge.

The Post published an interactive map, showing the hourly wage a full-time worker needs to afford the average one-bedroom apartment in every county in the state and the nation, without spending more than 30 percent of their total income.

The map shows one-bedroom housing in Pennsylvania’s rural counties is more affordable. A worker could earn as little as $9.06 in Armstrong County in order to spend only 30 percent of income on a one-bedroom apartment.

But moving toward an urban core gets expensive fast.

Workers need to earn more than $12 an hour to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Allegheny County and five surrounding counties. Philadelphia-area counties call for hourly wages higher than $18.

Penn State University and its droves of student renters likely drive up the costs in Centre County, where the needed wage tops $14.

The Low Income Housing Coalition ranked Pennsylvania the 21st most-expensive state in which to afford a two-bedroom apartment. A worker would have to make $17.33 an hour to afford two bedrooms.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

Spending only 30 percent of one’s total income on housing, a federal benchmark, is difficult for many low-income workers to pull off, affordable-housing advocates told The Patriot News:

“For people living on modest wages, life is just really hard,” Liz Hersh, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, said. “People are having to live farther away from their jobs, commute for longer and live in less desirable circumstances.”

The remedy many families are finding, Hersh said, is simply spending more than the benchmark 30 percent of their income on housing costs.

Individuals who are doing so in order to afford housing are typically referred to as “cost-burdened,” Althea Arnold, a research analyst with the Coalition, said, calling it “a huge problem that we’re facing.”

Reach Halle Stockton at 412-315-0263 or hstockton@publicsource.org.