Report says salary increases don't keep up with housing costs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wage increases aren't keeping up with rising housing costs, whether for low-income workers like janitors or middle-income teachers and police officers, according to a study Monday by an affordable housing coalition.

For instance, the median household income for a janitor rose about 9 percent between 1999 and 2001 -- not accounting for inflation -- to about $17,900. That was far short of the 25 percent increase in the median fair market rent of $721 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, the nonprofit National Housing Conference said.

Fair market rent includes the cost of housing and most utilities. It is calculated for metropolitan areas by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help determine the worth of federal housing vouchers used by poor families to pay rent.

The report found that in 2001, a family relying on a janitor's salary couldn't afford to pay rent or a mortgage in most of the nation's 60 largest housing markets. Nurses and those in retail sales had similar problems.

Elementary school teachers and police officers could pay the rent in most areas, but were priced out of homeownership in about half the large housing markets.

"Earnings are flat, the job market is tight, but especially on the rental housing side, you don't have supplies in general keeping up with demand," said Barbara Lipman, research director at the Center for Housing Policy, an arm of the housing conference.

For many families, that may mean rents or mortgage payments don't get paid on time, or less money to spend at the supermarket.

Librada Garcia says she tries to pay the $650-a-month rent on her apartment on time, but in tight months she might pay a utility bill late or delay paying the baby sitter of her 2-year-old son.

Garcia, who immigrated from Mexico nine years ago, earns about $1,300 a month cleaning offices in Palo Alto, Calif. Her rent eats up half those earnings. Generally, housing experts recommend that people spend no more than one-third their incomes on their houses or apartments.

Garcia said she may return to Mexico if she can't find a higher-paying job. "I would like to make a go of it," she said through a translator. "I just hope I make enough money to make it."

The National Housing Conference study focused on how affordable it was in 2001 for teachers, janitors, police officers, nurses and retail salespeople to pay for housing, considering them "traditional jobs that relied on traditional wages." It assumed that the household relied solely on the income of someone in one of those occupations.

The report estimated that to afford a two-bedroom apartment at $721 a month, a worker would have to earn almost $14.00 an hour. Janitors and those in retail sales didn't make that much in any of the 60 markets studied.

Nurses couldn't afford the typical two-bedroom pad in 17 markets, while it was a barrier for teachers and police officers in just one metropolitan area -- San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose in California.

Teachers and police made about $41,000 a year in 2001, up roughly 10 percent from two years earlier. The median income for nurses was about $31,000 a year, also up 10 percent, while it rose about 8 percent for retail salespersons to about $17,000.

Buying a home has become more affordable for some because of lower mortgage rates, Lipman said, but it still is out of reach for most at the lower end of the wage scale.

To buy a home at the 2001 median price of $156,000, a family needed about $49,700 in annual income to help secure the mortgage. The national median income for each of the five occupations studied fell short of that mark, although there were wide variations across the country for teachers and police officers.

For instance, in Baltimore, a teacher's median annual salary was about $48,000, roughly $2,000 more than the income needed to buy a typical home. Forty miles south in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the median salary for a teacher was about $40,500, but that fell nearly $19,000 short of the income needed to qualify for a mortgage.


On the Net: National Housing Conference report including data for 60 metro areas studied: ycheck01 .htm


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