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CITY TALK: Housing costs strain Savannah's low-wage workers

According to a study released last week by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and Georgia ACT, a renter with a full-time job needs to earn $17.25 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent in the Savannah area.

Fair market rent, which is tracked by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is “typically the 40th percentile of gross rents for standard rental units,” according to the study.

The fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Savannah metro area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties) is $897 per month. To keep housing costs below the generally accepted benchmark of 30 percent of income, a renter of one of these apartments would need an annual income of $35,880.

The median household income in the area is $63,500, which is high enough to afford an apartment that rents for $1,588.

Of course, as we all know, there are many workers in Savannah that are making far less. A household with two full-time workers earning minimum wage would barely earn more than $30,000 per year.

A household making about 30 percent of the annual median income earns only $19,050 per year. At that income level, an affordable rent for a two-bedroom would be $476. Good luck finding apartments at that price.

The report, “Out of Reach 2016,” paints a grim picture of housing affordability across the country, so Savannah is certainly not alone.

I was struck, however, by the gaps between the fair market rent in Savannah and other cities across Georgia.

The fair market rent for a two-bedroom in the Atlanta area is $949, but Savannah is second in the state at $897.

The fair market rent for a two-bedroom is $759 in the Athens area, $735 in Augusta, $705 in Macon and $700 in Valdosta. The median income in the Savannah area is higher than in all those cities, but the median doesn’t help you if you’re working at minimum wage or only slightly more.

“One of the toughest requests we’re faced with at Step Up is from families looking for housing,” said Suzanne Donovan, director of the anti-poverty initiative Step Up Savannah, in a press release. “We’ve got thousands on long wait lists for public housing neighborhoods and housing vouchers in our community, and an aging housing stock that lacks proper weatherization, just to name a few problems.”

“We regularly talk with mothers and fathers on the verge of eviction, already paying up to 50 percent of their income on housing,” Donovan said. She also noted that Savannah has an affordable housing fund, but it lacks a dedicated funding stream.

The problems are stark, but they can be addressed. I’ll follow up soon.

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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