Striking New Data Shines Light on Statewide Affordable Housing Crisis

No matter where you live in Georgia, the cost of housing stretches the paychecks of more and more families. From 2012-2016, roughly 1.3 million Georgia households were renters, representing 37 percent of Georgia’s population during that time.

Housing issues look different in every community. In metropolitan parts of Georgia, affordable housing options continue to move farther away from job centers and, in many cases, connect to few – if any – public transportation options. For example, many essential civil servants, including teachers, police officers and fire fighters, are unable to find affordable housing options in the area in which they serve. In smaller towns and rural parts of Georgia, the demand for supportive or transitional housing outpaces supply and the best of planning, as communities struggle to serve people dealing substance abuse and mental health issues, homeless populations and those with disabilities. Layered on top of these circumstances is a nationwide affordable housing crisis, and Georgia communities from Savannah to Gainesville are not immune to the problem.

A new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition offers stark new data on the problem. Their report Out of Reach found that there isn’t a single state, metropolitan area or county in the entire nation where a worker can earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, or the prevailing state minimum wage in places that have a higher minimum wage, and afford a two-bedroom home at fair market rent while working a standard 40-hour week. Not a single place.

In fact, only in 22 counties of the more than 3,000 across the country can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom rental home at fair market rent. All 22 counties where you can rent a one-bedroom working a minimum wage job are located in states with a higher wage floor than the basic federal minimum. Due to Georgia’s stubborn refusal to raise its state wage standards above the $7.25 federal requirement, none of those 22 counties are located here.

In Georgia, the average Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $911. To afford this level of rent without paying more than 30 percent of income on housing — a federal standard that establishes a threshold for housing affordability — a household must earn $3,038 monthly or $36,459 annually. Compare that benchmark to the annual wage of a typical Georgia worker, roughly $34,000 according to 2017 data.

On average, Georgians who work a minimum wage job need to work 83 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom rental unit at FMR.

In the metro Atlanta area, the FMR for a two-bedroom unit is $1,031. A household must earn roughly $3,400 a month to afford the rent. However, the metro Atlanta region has nearly half a million low-income workers, defined as those who earn $1,250 or less per month. This means that more than 52 percent of the metro Atlanta region’s workers earn less than the amount needed to afford a 2-bedroom apartment at FMR. 

In Warner Robins, a renter working a minimum wage job needs to rack up about 75 hours per week for a one-bedroom unit at FMR. In Dalton, a 63-hour work week is required. Even in and around Valdosta, a renter working a minimum wage job needs an average of 53 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom unit at FMR.

The top five areas of Georgia with the highest housing wages to afford a two-bedroom unit at FMR include:

  1. Savannah, requiring an hourly wage of $20.44
  2. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, requiring an hourly wage of $19.83
  3. Butts County in middle Georgia, requiring an hourly wage of $16.92
  4. Camden County, requiring an hourly wage of $16.54
  5. Gainesville metropolitan area, requiring an hourly housing wage of $16.29

The Georgia area with the lowest housing wage required to afford a two-bedroom unit at fair market value is in and around Lincoln County in eastern Georgia, with a housing wage of $12.67.

The affordability problem can be linked to several factors. Georgia’s wages have mostly remained stagnant, with persistent racial and gender disparities. Data from 2017 shows the median wage is still below pre-Great Recession levels for all Georgians. The ongoing disparity in median wages by race further complicates the picture. A sizeable disparity in statewide wages remains for African Americans and Hispanics compared to white Georgians. The median wage is 25 percent lower for African Americans and 26 percent lower for Hispanics in Georgia. For women, the median wage is nearly 17 percent lower than men.

It is hard to separate stagnant wage growth and the affordable housing crisis, but it not the only factor at play. Accelerated redevelopment in prime real estate markets is a contributing factor, driving prices up and in some cases pushing long-time residents out. In addition, many communities in Georgia are experiencing a shrinking supply of affordable units as more lucrative housing options like luxury townhomes and condos are prioritized, or zoning changes prohibit or limit different types of housing options.

As housing costs rise and wages remain largely stagnant, the boundaries of the affordability problem ripple well beyond low-income households. The affordability crisis often pushes civil servants like teachers, firefighters and police officers to the outskirts of the communities they serve. If Georgia communities want meaningful, long-term solutions to the affordable housing crisis, the debate must extend to a discussion on wages and income inequality.

Curious how your county or region stacks up? The report’s interactive tool allows you to explore much more housing data by zip code, county or region.

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