Minimum Earners in Arizona Must Work 71 Hours to Afford a Two-Bedroom Apartment

A rendering of the proposed Van Buren Apartments.
A rendering of the proposed Van Buren Apartments. Phoenix Planning and Development
Arizonans making the state minimum wage must work two full-time jobs, effectively, to afford a market-value two-bedroom apartment, according to a national report released Tuesday.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition's (NLIHC) on Thursday released its annual study on the gap between rental housing costs and income for working-class Americans. The report found that, in 90 percent of counties in the United States, full-time workers making $22.96 per hour or less cannot afford to live in a two-bedroom apartment.

The organization uses the fair market value for housing costs, as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). NLIHC's report also uses the "30 percent of income" standard to define housing affordability, meaning it looks at whether people need to expend more than 30 percent of their income to rent an apartment.

In Arizona, a worker making the state minimum wage of $11 per hour would need to put in 71 hours a week to afford a fair market value two-bedroom apartment with a $1,015 monthly rent, the study shows.

The affordability problem is slightly worse in the metropolitan statistical area known as Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale.

Minimum wage renters in the Phoenix area need to work 75 hours a week to afford a market rate two-bedroom apartment at $1,073 per month, according to NLIHC. At the standard 40-hour full-time work week, you would need to make $20.63 for the same apartment.

That puts a two-bedroom unit out of reach for most service workers, including cashiers, teacher assistants, janitors, security guards, cooks, and landscapers. The so-called "housing wage" in Arizona and Phoenix is also above the average wage for customer service representatives, one the state's biggest and fastest growing employment sectors.

"People we rely on — retail salespersons, fast food workers, personal care aides, and home health aides —  can’t afford to pay their rent without spending more than 30% of their income," NLIHC said in a press release. "Nationally, these jobs are projected to experience the greatest growth over the next decade, but they pay less than the hourly wage necessary to afford a modest one-bedroom rental home at fair market rent."

NLIHC's report comes as Arizona, and Maricopa County specifically, confronts a growing housing affordability crisis.

The severity of the problem was recently driven home by a point-in-time count that found a 10 percent spike in homelessness in Arizona last year, the fifth biggest increase in the country. The count — sponsored by HUD —  found that there are 9,865 people experiencing homelessness in the state, about two-thirds of whom are in Maricopa County.

Meanwhile another report released by the NLIHC this year found that Arizona has the third biggest shortage of housing for extremely low-income individuals, defined by the federal government as below the poverty line or 30 percent of the area medium income.

State and local officials have done little to counter the growing costs that come with a booming population and laws preventing cities from requiring developers to build affordable housing.

But that's starting to change.

For the first time since 2010, state lawmakers increased the budget for the Housing Trust Fund, which provides grants for affordable housing and homelessness services, from $2.5 million to $15 million.

While the figure fell short of the $30 million proposed by Democrats, the funding increase was seen by advocates as an acknowledgment of the state's housing crisis.

The issue is drawing more attention in Phoenix, too. Mayor Kate Gallego made housing affordability a plank of her election campaign. 

In her inaugural state of the city address on June 13, Gallego announced that she is hiring a new "housing czar" to find solutions to the crisis.

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Steven Hsieh was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from August 2018 to April 2020.
Contact: Steven Hsieh