The Denver Post – By Emilie Rusch – Rent burdened defined as those spending more than 30 percent of pre-tax income on rent and utilities, according to advocacy campaign Make Room.
As housing costs have skyrocketed across the Front Range, 371,000 working Coloradans paid more than 30 percent of their pre-tax income in 2014 toward rent and utility bills, according to data released Monday by a national renters’ advocacy campaign.
Of those workers, more than two-thirds worked at least 35 hours per week. Nearly half worked in food service, office and administrative support, construction and extraction, building and grounds maintenance, or transportation.
“With so many working families struggling to keep a roof over their heads in Colorado, our leaders at the local, regional and state levels must do more to address Colorado’s housing challenges,” Melinda Pollack, vice president and Denver market leader for Enterprise Community Partners, sponsoring partner of the Make Room campaign, said in a statement. “Every community in Colorado should be able to benefit from the state’s economic growth, but that isn’t possible when so many people are barely able to pay the rent.”
In 2014, there were about 966,000 working renters in Colorado.
Experts generally use 30 percent of income as the threshold of affordability in housing.
In the Denver area, though, rental housing that falls beneath that threshold has become increasingly rare for low- and even middle-income families as rents soar and entry-level for-sale inventory evaporates.
Currently, one in every four Colorado renters is spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing, said Sara Reynolds, executive director of Housing Colorado, a Denver-based membership organization that represents the state’s affordable housing industry.
“If you look at some of these low-income families, or even moderate-income families who are making $50,000-$60,000 a year, when you look at what 50 percent means, it means right off the top, $25,000-$35,000 is going out of the door for housing. That means you only have $25,000-$35,000 pre-tax to live on for the whole year,” Reynolds said. “If you’re trying to support a family, that’s not enough to meet basic needs.”
A minimum-wage worker in Colorado would need to work more than 80 hours a week to afford a basic, market-rate two-bedroom apartment, according to data from Live Affordably Colorado.
And while median apartment rents increased 10 percent year over year in the first quarter of 2016, according to the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, wages haven’t experienced nearly the same growth.
In 2015, Denver-area wages increased 0.6 percent, Reynolds said.
“It just shows the disconnect between wages stagnating and rent leaping every single year,” she said. “Even if a family has a stable situation right now, it’s unlikely to stay that way.”
In Colorado, the number of workers struggling to keep a roof over their heads is growing faster than the national average, said Brad Weinig, transit-oriented development program director for Enterprise Community Partners in Denver.
Between 2005 and 2014, the number of rent-burdened workers increased 22 percent nationwide, compared with 27 percent in Colorado.
“There’s a broad perspective that, hey, they’ll get a job, but these are people who have jobs,” said Andrew Jakabovics, senior director of policy development and research for Enterprise. “They’re working at least 35 hours — that’s full time by almost all measures, but they’re still struggling with the problem of very high rent.”
Led by the nonprofit Enterprise, Make Room is a collaborative effort of multiple organizations, including the MacArthur and Ford foundations, aimed at bringing awareness and policy solutions to rental housing challenges nationwide.
“By and large, the local jurisdictions are behind our national peers in creating these kinds of resources,” Weinig said. “Here in Denver and Colorado, the first step is to create an ongoing, locally sourced revenue pot to invest in the creation of affordable housing of all types.”
The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, which is working with the legislature this session in hopes of extending a state low-income housing tax credit that sunsets at the end of 2016, said Make Room’s analysis reflects the challenges they are seeing across the state.
“Overall, the gap between income and the cost of housing is significant for many and severe for the most vulnerable,” CEO Cris A. White said. “To strengthen the state’s economy and improve quality of life, more opportunities must be made available for people to live affordably.”
Emilie Rusch: 303-954-2457, firstname.lastname@example.org or @emilierusch