Nearly half of African-American families in the U.S. do not make enough money to comfortably afford housing, according to new data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The advocacy non-profit publishes an annual report on the housing wage, or the amount that someone must earn to afford a modest apartment without spending more than 30 percent of income on housing. To comfortably afford housing in the U.S. in 2013, according to the NLIHC, a renter must earn $18.79 an hour. That is much higher than the $14.32 hourly wage earned by the average renter, and more than double the $7.25 national minimum wage (not to mention President Obama’s proposed increase to a $9 minimum wage).
Housing insecurity, like food insecurity, is a nuanced and often-hidden issue. The NLIHC calculates that 30 housing units are available for every 100 extremely low-income renters. Federal and state housing programs do offer subsidies for low-income renters, but the demand far exceeds the supply and people can wait years for their housing subsidies. While they wait, families might crash with friends or family or bounce between shelters and the streets.
In Philadelphia, the waiting list for housing vouchers is so massive it is closed. Even if families make it onto the list for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly known as Section 8, they might wait years for their subsidies to arrive.
Beyond the grim big picture, data shows that blacks and Hispanics carry an added burden. While over half of the people who cannot afford housing are white, 48 percent of all African-American families and 46.6 percent of Hispanic families have insufficient income to pay the average fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment ($977), according to analysis by the Poverty and Race Research Action Council.
Philadelphia’s grinding poverty — though mounting — is nothing new, and segregation in the city has also been well documented. Philly has a poverty rate of 28.4 percent, higher than in any other of the 25 largest U.S. cities besides Detroit. The poverty rate here is 34 percent for African Americans and 42 percent for Hispanics, compared to 20 percent for the city’s white population.
Allyn Gaestel is currently a Philadelphia Fellow for Next City. Much of her work centers on human rights, inequality and gender. She has worked in Haiti, India, Nepal, Mali, Senegal, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Bahamas for outlets including the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Los Angeles Times, Reuters, CNN and Al Jazeera. She tweets @allyngaestel.