Sunday, August 24, 2014

Affordability in DC

Today, the Post published an article titled "D.C. ranks 2nd best for poor families," which described a report by the Citizens Budget Commission.(1) However, in contrast to the article's title, the article recognized that "being the most affordable place to live is not the same as actually being an affordable place to live." The article's title suggests that DC is one of the most affordable cities for poor families, but the report does not make this claim.

First, the CBC report stated that the very poor would have to use their entire income to pay for rent and transportation in DC and elsewhere:
Generally, all large cities in this analysis are affordable to moderate- and middle-income households...None of the cities analyzed is affordable for a single worker household or a very low-income single worker household. For a low-income family, only two cities [San Francisco and Washington, D.C.] are affordable, although very close to the threshold. The problem is particularly troubling for very low-income single households; these households, assumed to earn a wage equal to the national poverty line, require more than 100 percent of that figure [100% of their income] for location costs in all cities but Philadelphia, where location costs are 95 percent. 
According to the report, DC is more affordable than other cities but still unaffordable for the poor in general, and the very low-income in particular. The title of the article was very misleading. Very-low income single workers would have to spend 112% of their income on rent and transportation.

Second, in the report, the authors use median income for the metropolitan area, not for the more narrow DC area, which means that the low-income families they are analyzing have much higher incomes than is the case within the more narrow area of DC. Data based on the DC Metropolitan area includes households in the counties around DC, which happen to be six of the ten wealthiest counties in the nation, according to Forbes, and thus presenting DC incomes as much higher than they actually are.

The CBC report measures a specific group of low-income households, which they define as making $46,600. If we take a different number, the DC Median Household Income (2008-2012)(Census), which is $64,267, then a low-income family would be making about $32,133. There is a great difference between a household making $46,600 and one making $32,133. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, in the DC Metro area, here are some jobs, which pay around $46,600 full-time:
Desktop Publishers $45,610
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technicians $46,230
Surgical Technologists $46,920
Crane and Tower Operators  $47,100
The CBC report defines these residents as low-income. In the DC Metro area, here are some jobs, which pay around $32,133 full-time:
Taxi Drivers and Chauffeurs $29,740
Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations $31,820
Healthcare Support Occupations $32,040
Maids and Housekeeping Cleaners $32,770
In general, as I have written about before, middle-, low-, and very-low-income residents are forced to compete with each other for the very small number of affordable housing units in DC, while higher-income residents do not have compete in the same way for housing. As a result, many households end up paying more for rent than is financially sustainable. According to the American Community Survey (2012), among DC renters, 40.2% of households use over 35% of their income to pay their rent:
The Post should have been clear up front that the CBC report did not argue that DC is actually affordable for poor families, but rather it is more affordable than most for those making $46,000 and most affordable for single professionals making $65,000.

Last week, I was in San Francisco and learned about their very different system of affordable housing. This very intriguing information will be in my next blog post.

(1) While the Post says that CBC is nonpartisan, the Post did not explain what the CBC's audience or approach is. CBC gave its Corporate Leadership Award to Google, which was the focus of a panel at last week's American Sociological Association conference as a major actor in hyper-gentrification in San Francisco.

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