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Many US Workers Still Struggling to Afford Housing in Metro Areas

(Source: NHC) – In the midst of a housing and economic recovery, many workers key to Americans’ summer vacation plans struggle to afford housing in metro areas across the country. In the latest edition of Paycheck to Paycheck, Center for Housing Policy (CHP) researchers draw on the latest data from the first quarter of 2013 to reveal the gap between wages and the costs of housing, both rental and owned, in 207 U.S. metro areas for workers in occupations central to the summer vacations Americans hope to squeeze in before school starts. 

“One of the most overlooked aspects of this recovery is that for many workers, incomes are not rebounding in step with local housing markets,” explained CHP Senior Research Associate Maya Brennan, a co-author of a report released with the new data. “Even in a strong sector like travel and tourism, wages have not kept pace with the rising costs of renting or homeownership.”

The accompanying report, Paycheck to Paycheck 2013: A Snapshot of Metropolitan Housing Affordability for Travel and Tourism Workers, explores trends in housing affordability for mid-career workers in five common jobs related to travel and tourism: housekeepers, wait staff, auto mechanics, front desk managers and flight attendants. Of these professions, only one—flight attendants—has an average wage high enough to afford the mortgage on a median-priced home in the U.S., and workers in two of the jobs—housekeepers and wait staff—cannot afford the typical rent on either a one- or two-bedroom apartment in any metro area.

“The data show that working hard is not enough to make ends meet,” said report co-author Janet Viveiros, a research associate at CHP. “Americans are spending more on vacations, but many of the workers fixing their cars before a long road trip, cleaning their hotel rooms or serving their meals are struggling to afford basic expenses like housing.”

Incomes for housekeepers and wait staff were not enough to afford the fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in any of the 207 metro areas studied. The slow housing recovery in some markets made homeownership more affordable than renting – as long as workers had enough savings for a downpayment and could obtain a mortgage. In only eight of the metro areas could a housekeeper afford the mortgage on a median-priced home, and wait staff could afford to buy a typical home in just ten metro areas. Lagging home prices, however, were not universal across the study. In the 25 most expensive markets covered, which includes many popular vacation destinations, even relatively high-earning flight attendants could not afford to own a median-priced home.

CHP Director and National Housing Conference Vice President for Research Lisa Sturtevant, who joins NHC and CHP this week, notes that while a housing recovery is a relief to those who already own property, rising prices and rents have meant that many working individuals and families struggle to find affordable housing in their communities.

“The continued improvement in housing markets across the country is good news for current homeowners who saw the values of their homes plummet during the downturn.  However, the turnaround in housing prices—driven by investors in many markets—along with the still-tight mortgage market, has kept it very difficult for moderate-income families to afford to a buy a home.  The demand for rental housing has increased substantially in some markets, putting upward pressure on rents.  And as prices and rents are rising, wages have been steady at best, and many working families remain priced out of many markets.”

“There is a fundamental tension between a housing recovery and housing affordability,” Sturtevant continued. “The solutions are higher wages or greater access to affordable housing.”

See the data for more than 200 U.S. metro areas

Read the report

Key Findings

  • In a substantial portion of the U.S., buying a typical home is unaffordable for four out of five travel workers studied. In nearly 40 percent of 207 metro areas studied, front desk managers and auto mechanics could not afford the monthly mortgage payments for a median-priced home. Low-income travel workers, such as housekeepers and wait staff, could afford a median-priced home in less than 5 percent of the study’s metro areas. On the other end of the spectrum, just 12 percent of the metro areas were unaffordable to flight attendants.  Even when home prices were affordable, amassing a sufficient down payment or getting access to credit pose additional barriers.
  • Lower-income travel workers also face rents that are unaffordable at typical wages. The fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment was unaffordable for housekeepers and wait staff in all 207 metro areas. Even a one-bedroom apartment was unaffordable for housekeepers and wait staff in the vast majority of metro areas
  • Housing affordability challenges for travel workers were concentrated in major vacation destinations.  Unaffordable metro areas included Suffolk-Nassau, New York (home of the Hamptons); Barnstable, Massachusetts (home of Hyannis and the rest of Cape Cod); and Ocean City, New Jersey (home of Cape May and other southern New Jersey shore towns). In these metros, fair market rents and median-priced homes were unaffordable for housekeepers, wait staff, front desk managers, and auto mechanics. Flight attendants could afford to rent a typical two-bedroom unit in every metro area studied, but they could not afford to buy a home in 25 destination communities, including the metro areas of Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, and New York.
  • More metro areas were affordable for travel workers looking to buy a home in 2013 than in 2012; however, affordability declined in areas with rebounding home prices. Overall, more metro areas become affordable for potential homebuyers than became unaffordable over the past year, but still the gains were modest. For example, auto mechanics could afford to buy a home in twelve areas that had not been affordable last year, yet five other metro areas saw median home prices rise out of auto mechanics’ price range.

U.S. Metropolitan Area Rankings

Fact SheetMost to Least Expensive Homeownership Markets
Fact SheetMost to Least Expensive Rental Markets
Fact SheetChange in the Qualifying Income Needed to Purchase a Home

Methodology

Read where the data come from and more information in the Paycheck to Paycheck FAQ

Acknowledgements

The Center for Housing Policy gratefully acknowledges the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in funding Paycheck to Paycheck: Wages and the Cost of Housing in America.  Any opinions or conclusions expressed, however, are those of the authors alone.

Source: NHC


About Alex Ferreras

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