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News / Business / Clark County Business

Clark County renters must earn $38 per hour to afford 2-bedroom unit, according to report

'Housing cost is the No. 1 pocketbook issue impacting every household in Washington.'

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: June 28, 2024, 6:05am

Clark County residents must make $38 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment — a $5 jump from last year.

That’s according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Out of Reach report released Thursday.

The annual data compares median salaries to rental prices in Washington counties. This year’s report highlighted the growing gap between affordable housing and income for Washington residents, especially Clark County residents.

In Clark County, fair market rent on a two-bedroom apartment averages $2,024, according to the report. The report assumes renters should spend about 30 percent of their gross income on rent to balance all cost-of-living necessities. Given that ratio, a Clark County resident would need to make an hourly wage of $38.92 — nearly $81,000 a year, according to the report. That’s a $5-an-hour jump from last year’s calculation.

Although Washington’s minimum wage of $16.28 is the second highest in the nation, a Clark County renter earning that wage would have to work two-full time jobs and a part-time job to afford a two-bedroom apartment, according to the report.

“Housing cost is the No. 1 pocketbook issue impacting every household in Washington,” said Michele Thomas, director of advocacy and policy for Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.

Statewide trend

The report ranked Washington overall as the fifth most unaffordable state in the country.

The state’s average fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $2,097. To afford rent and utilities without spending more than 30 percent of monthly income on housing, an individual would need to earn $6,989 per month. Renters in King County, which includes Seattle, need to earn an hourly wage of $50 to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

Thomas, from the state’s low-income alliance, said that she has heard from renters that rising rent and stagnant wages have forced them to decrease their family’s grocery budget. Many renters are using food banks more.

Rent prices have also impacted tenants’ mental health, said Thomas.

“When a rent increase happens, people think, ‘How am I going to avoid this,’ but then they go, ‘What’s going to happen next year?’ ’’ Thomas said. “The stress that it causes is really tremendous, and we know that kind of stress has really significant impacts on a person’s health and on their family in general.”

The high cost for renting is also causing residents to postpone retirement.

Four years ago, Sharon Pevey moved into her Vancouver manufactured home and the rent was $525. She owns the home but pays rent for the land it sits on. Now her monthly rent is $1,200.

Pevey, a retired nurse, had to return to work to afford it.

“At age 76, I will always need to work to face the unknown. We deserve stability and predictability, but seniors like me are living in fear of the next price increase that will land us on the street,” Pevey said.

Solutions

Sue Denfeld, president of the Clark County Rental Association, said large corporations distort the fair market value.

“What’s hurting us is the large corporation that owns the big multifamily units,” Denfeld said. “The corporations are the ones that are driving the rents up.”

Denfeld said the association’s landlords are trying to keep rents sustainable for renters. Many landlords raised their rent to meet fair market value after pandemic-related restrictions were dropped, she said.

But now, Denfeld sees many Clark County Rental Association members minimizing rent increases. Some landlords, she said, are keeping rent below market value. She said she often sees rental rates for two bedrooms around $1,650. For a household with two minimum-wage salaries, $1,650 would be around 30 percent of the monthly income and considered affordable.

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It’s not enough to relying on the goodwill of landlords, Thomas said. The solution has to come from lawmakers, she said. During the 2024 legislative session, a rent stabilization bill that would have limited rent increases to 15 percent or lower depending on local governments was killed. Washington Low Income Housing Alliance is pushing for the Legislature to pass rent stabilization in 2025.

“We have more people joining the movement. More people who are fed up, speaking out and demanding that lawmakers step up and meet the needs of renters in Washington,” Thomas said.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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