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Wash. Rent Prices Leaving Wages Behind, Linked to Homeless Numbers

A big jump in housing costs has coincided with the growing issue of homelessness in Washington state. (Kid Clutch/Flickr)
A big jump in housing costs has coincided with the growing issue of homelessness in Washington state. (Kid Clutch/Flickr)
June 18, 2018

SEATTLE — A person earning minimum wage would have to work 75 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Washington state. That's according to the new report, "Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing."

The annual analysis of the rental market found Washingtonians would need to earn nearly $27 per hour to afford a two-bedroom place to live. Rachael Myers is executive director of the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance, which released the report alongside its national partner.

She said the growing issue of homelessness on the West Coast is directly related to skyrocketing housing costs.

"We were actually making some progress in the state on reducing homelessness between about 2006 and 2013 or '14, and that's when the costs of housing just sort of shot up at a pace that we hadn't seen before,” Myers said. “Right at that same time is when we started seeing homelessness significantly increasing again."

The Seattle area is the epicenter of the affordable-housing crisis. Workers there would have to make about $36 per hour to afford two-bedroom housing - which is more than three-times the state's minimum hourly wage of $11.50. Rents have not risen in rural Washington as fast as in the rest of the state, but Myers noted it's also harder to find a job in these places.

Housing costs have gone up even as the economy grows and unemployment continues to shrink. Myers said the growth is mainly benefiting high-income individuals and, as a result, exacerbating income inequality. She said the state has added a lot of high-wage jobs, such as those in the technology sector, at the same time that housing costs have soared.

"The two things are tied together. So as the economy grows on sort of the high end, that is part of what drives up housing costs,” she said. “So it makes it even more challenging for low-income people to be able to afford a place to live."

Myers said one solution to this issue is more funding for affordable housing. For those at or near homelessness, she said, that means more subsidized housing.

Myers added that local restrictions on how quickly rents can rise could be another solution. She said addressing that issue would require the state to lift its ban on rent stabilization.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA