No Place to Call Home

BY JEANIE DONOVAN, M.P.A., M.P.H.

“A house is much more than roof over one’s head. [It is] a place where a person creates and lives out his or her life,” said Saint Pope John Paul II.1 Having a stable home to establish our daily routines and relationships is something many of us may take for granted. The benefits of secure, affordable housing are numerous and well-documented, especially for children and other vulnerable populations.[2,3] Unfortunately, millions of working families in the United States and thousands in the Gulf South struggle to find affordable, safe housing where they can create and live out their lives.

The root of the problem is two-fold: household incomes have not kept up with inflation and funding for housing assistance programs has not kept pace with the growing need. The results include: homelessness; families forced to forgo other necessities such as food and medical care; and

an increase in the number of low-income households living in substandard or overcrowded housing. Leaving families to live in such situations violates a basic premise of Catholic social teaching—the right to life is fundamental and includes a right to food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and essential social services.[4] Fortunately, the affordable housing crisis is not a problem without solutions; with appropriate policy changes and public investments we can and must increase housing security for families and children.

WAGES NOT KEEPING UP WITH HOUSING COSTS

A recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that the average fair market rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom rental unit in the U.S. is $1,056 per month.[5] The annual income needed to afford that rental unit is $42,240, or $20.30 per hour. A full-time worker earning

the federal minimum wage would need to work 112 hours per week, or 2.8 minimum wage jobs to pay for that unit and still be able to afford other household expenses. The average hourly wage of the 41.8 million renters in the U.S. is $15.42—nearly $5 per hour below what is needed to afford

the average two-bedroom apartment.[6]

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