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Minimum wage workers in North Carolina must work more hours to pay rent, report shows

Mecklenburg County residents making minimum wage need to work 109 hours per week to afford rent for a two-bedroom apartment, according to a new report.

“Out of Reach,” published Tuesday by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, shows rental market costs across the country. It found that while North Carolina is the 30th most expensive state to rent in, Mecklenburg County exceeds the state average and renters here have to work more hours to afford housing than in previous years.

Previous coalition reports found Mecklenburg County residents had to work 103 hours per week at minimum wage to afford a two-bedroom unit in 2018 and 96 hours in 2017.

The report shows “a mismatch between what people earn...and what housing costs,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the national housing coalition. “Rents are rising faster than renters’ income and that’s been the case for several decades.”

Affordable housing has been a central issue in the Charlotte area after a 2014 study declared the city dead last in economic mobility among the 50 largest U.S. cities. Since then, a variety of public and private initiatives have attempted to address the issue, including an $11 million budget allocation for rental subsidies approved by Mecklenburg County commissioners earlier this month.

North Carolina’s minimum wage is $7.25, which is also the federal minimum. That means minimum wage earners would need to work 94 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom rental in the state, according to the report.

The new housing coalition report determined a “housing wage” for communities, or the amount full-time workers need earn to afford rent without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs.

Mecklenburg County renters would need to earn $19.77 an hour to afford a two-bedroom, according to the report, compared with $16.95 an hour for North Carolina overall.

Nowhere in the United States can minimum wage earners afford a two-bedroom unit at fair market rent, according to the report.

Hawaii has the highest two-bedroom housing wage of U.S. states at $36.82 while Arkansas is lowest at $14.26, a figure that still exceeds the state’s $9.25 minimum wage.

The report found only 28 counties in the United States where a minimum wage worker can work a standard 40-hour week and afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, said Andrew Aurand, the coalition’s vice president for research. All are in states where the minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who joined a conference call Tuesday morning announcing the report’s findings, said the lack of affordable rent has dire consequences.

“Residents across my district and beyond are being forced to make impossible decisions” to buy food, medication, or pay rent, the Massachusetts Democrat said, adding many people are “one emergency away from eviction and even homelessness.”

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Lauren Lindstrom is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering affordable housing. She previously covered health for The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, where she wrote about the state’s opioid crisis and childhood lead poisoning. Lauren is a Wisconsin native, a Northwestern University graduate and a 2019 Report for America corps member.
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