Housing out of reach for middle Virginia

This is a guest post written by Shauna Spencer.  Originally from Hampton Roads, Shauna is a student of psychology and international studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.  She is a Housing Policy and Research Analysis intern at Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME).

Research shows that housing is growing out of reach for middle Virginia. Unfortunately, federal budgets for 2011 reflect extensive reductions in funding to the organizations and programs that seek to remedy this problem.  At best, these cuts are poorly timed, at worst, they reflect a deplorable disparity between the priorities of the government and the needs of its people.

Housing is a necessity.  We all need, and deserve, a place to return to at the end of the day. Many of us take having a home for granted; it’s difficult to imagine ourselves going through our daily routines without the promise of a warm bed and a safe place to sleep.  But the dismal truth is that this basic necessity is becoming more and more difficult to afford.  Americans everywhere are finding themselves faced with the possibility of losing their homes and are struggling and sacrificing to keep afloat in the midst of our country’s current housing crisis, and it definitely is a crisis.

A report published by the Center for Housing Policy informs us that housing costs drain more than half the incomes of about 25% of households in America.  Another study, conducted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, indicates that among those households with incomes below the federal poverty line almost 75% are forced to allocate more than half of their gross incomes to housing.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development categorizes as worst-case those

“renters with very low incomes (below half the median in their area) who do not receive government housing assistance and who either paid more than half their monthly incomes for rent, lived in severely substandard conditions, or both.”

Between 2007 and 2009, “worst-case housing needs” increased by over 20%. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that homelessness grew by 3% in the United States from 2008 to 2009.

In Virginia, the median sales price for a house is $240,809.  According to the Virginia Housing Snapshot, in order to be able to afford mortgage payments and maintain an adequate standard of living, a person must make $67,000 a year.  The median household income in Virginia is $59,330.  These figures mean that for many Virginians, homeownership, and the equity and security that come with it, is out of reach.

For those of us who rent, the following figures are particularly relevant:

When looking at these figures, it is important to remember that many American households do not make anywhere close to the median.  A person making minimum wage, for example, working 40 hours a week, would earn a gross income of $15,080.  Even a person making $15/hr—more than twice minimum wage—will only earn a gross income of $31,200.  Even before you strip away taxes and social security and etcetera, that’s not enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent in Richmond.

Despite a distinct lack of affordable housing in Virginia and across the United States,  the current proposed budgets for 2011 reflect extensive reductions in funding to the organizations and programs that seek to increase housing options for all.  At best, these cuts are poorly timed, at worst, they reflect a deplorable disparity between the priorities of the government and the needs of its people.

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