Monday, December 20, 2004

Apartments are out of reach for many Vermonters

A report entitled "Out of Reach" was commissioned by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In Rutland Vermont, a person earning the minimum wage of $7 an hour would be able to afford a two bedroom apartment at the rate of $451 a month. The Fair Market Rent for an apartment if Rutland is $698 a month. This person would have to come up with an extra $247 per month.

The report also indicates that a person on Social Security Income (SSI),receiving $616 monthly could afford to pay $185 per month (30% of income) for a single bedroom apartment. The Fair Market Value of a single bedroom apartment is $568 a month. This individual would have to find $383 a month to pay for housing.

Clearly, the housing market and the wages are out of line. It gets worse. A Section 8 Housing Voucher allows low income Vermonters and the disabled to pay 30% of their income towards their housing whether it be in a housing facility or their apartment of choice. Recently, there has been a 36 month wait to get a Section 8 voucher. But now, the list has been discontinued indefinately because the vouchers are frozen.They are not even taking names.


Besides this attack on low income and disabled Vermonters being cruel, it also is fiscally foolish. How easy will it be for folks getting out of our institutions to find housing? What about housing for workers at our ski areas? What will it mean for families unable to pay the rent, more homelessness? What will the overall impact be on our community? The fix here folks is not in the free market as we are witnessing.

The competition for housing throughout the Northeast has driven up the costs of living beyond what wages can pay for. The free market is alive and well and active in the housing market, and this is the result. Yet, there is really no free market when it comes to wages. Why does Killington have to go overseas to find employees? Why do we have to fly agricultural workers from other countries to pick our crops? What has happened to the best paying jobs in our region? Payroll is simply a cost that must be managed like any other cost, and it is therefore kept as low as possible. An argument economists often make is that the minimum wage is not meant for working families, that it is for students, season workers, part time workers, etc. Well, increasingly here in Vermont, more and more families appear to be depending on these wages to get by.

The free market can be a powerful engine in providing customers with highest value at the lowest cost when there is competition. But it is not the answer in all situations as we see here in Rutland. Housing has got to be considered a basic human right. So, the person making minimum wage and looking for an apartment should be willing to work 77 hours per week for housing. We can and must do better than this.




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