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New study says minimum wage worker would need to work almost three full-time jobs to afford two-bedroom rental

Ashley East, a single mother of three, lives with her mother near Tampa Heights. Although she works full time as a housekeeper, she said she can't afford to rent an apartment of her own. [Photo courtesy of Feeding Tampa Bay}
Published Jun. 18

TAMPA — A worker making Florida's minimum hourly wage of $8.46 would have to work 108 hours a week — close to the equivalent of three full-time jobs — to afford a modestly priced two-bedroom apartment in the state, a new national study found.

It's a similar story in the Tampa Bay region, where the $1,133 average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is well beyond the reach of minimum wage and other low-paid workers. A person would need to earn $21.79 an hour — more than $13 above the state's minimum wage — for that rent to be "affordable." That's based on households spending no more than 30 percent of their income on rent, a threshold recommended by housing advocates to avoid families spiraling into debt.

The housing crisis is not restricted to Florida. Millions of families across the United States have been priced out of the private rental market, the report found. Even in states with a minimum wage higher than the $7.25 an hour federal standard, there is nowhere in the nation where a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford the average rent of a modest two-bedroom home, the study found.

Those findings were released Tuesday by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington D.C. group that advocates for housing for low-income families. The report is intended to highlight the plight of Americans who, despite holding down full-time jobs, struggle to find somewhere to live.

"Clearly the country is in the grip of a pervasive affordable housing crisis affecting rural, urban and suburban communities alike," said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the coalition.

Hawaii emerged as the state with the most expensive average rent at $1,914. The cheapest was Arkansas at $742. Fair market rents are compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to calculate housing voucher subsidies.

Florida, which for years was considered an affordable retirement destination, ranked 15th most expensive. Statewide, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,189. Even to afford a one-bedroom place, a minimum wage worker would have to work an 87-hour week.

That's the reality facing Ashley East, 33, a single mother of three who makes $10 an hour as a housekeeper at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino.

She and her children, aged 9, 6 and 5, live in two bedrooms at her mother's home close to Tampa Heights.

"Some of the rents are like $1,000. That's too much," she said. "It makes me feel upset. I can't afford anything."

She plans to try and save for a home of her own, which may mean getting a second job, something she doesn't want to do because it means less time with her children.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition has tracked the growing gap between wages and rents for close to 30 years. The non-profit group's backers include the Ford Foundation, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America.

Yentel, the coalition CEO, said the hardships the report reveals are the result of decades of failed policies by successive federal governments. The federal minimum wage, still used in 29 states, has remained at $7.25 since 2009. Meanwhile, the private market has lost nearly 2.5 million low-cost rentals since the 1980s, she said.

"Our rental housing needs have worsened considerably over the past 30 years, leaving housing out of reach for millions of low-wage workers," she said.

Locally, housing authorities, non-profits and local governments have tried to tackle the problem but lack the resources to make a significant dent in the demand for affordable homes.

The Tampa Housing Authority has about 1,800 people waiting for Section 8 housing and 22,000 people waiting for some form of public or subsidized housing. Like Tampa, other local housing authorities have closed their waiting lists.

People on disability or those living on retirement savings and social security are also struggling to afford somewhere to live.

Their ranks include Jeffery Jones, 52, who has been homeless for about a year after being laid off from his last job. He has cancer and has applied for disability.

During his long work life he was employed in customer service, technical support and as a project coordinator. Now he and a friend he looks after are sleeping in the doorway of a St. Petersburg library with just a blanket between him and the concrete floor.

Between them, their monthly income is just $760. Jones has looked for an apartment to rent but can't find somewhere they can afford.

"I cannot believe the price of rent; it's impossible," he said. "To me, anything over $500 is too much."

His only hope, he said, is subsidized housing. Until then, he will try to manage with his clothes and things in a bike trailer that he tows around.

" I hate it. I don't like being in this situation," he said.

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_times.

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