Good Life

Helping Hands: New report shows housing is less affordable

Ruben Dutton and his son Jamiah, 3, of Johnstown, play with blue pinwheels during a child abuse prevention event held in Johnstown Central Park on Wednesday. April is National Child abuse Prevention Month.
Ruben Dutton and his son Jamiah, 3, of Johnstown, play with blue pinwheels during a child abuse prevention event held in Johnstown Central Park on Wednesday. April is National Child abuse Prevention Month. AP photo/The Tribune-Democrat

It is sobering to see how dire the housing situation has become and how much it has deteriorated in five years that the State College area received special attention for being even worse than the rest of the region.

Housing is a necessity, yet for many people in our area finding affordable housing is becoming more difficult. Affordable housing means that a household should spend no more than 30 percent of income on rent and utilities. In the State College area, many families spend much more than that.

A study released earlier this year and prepared by the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia, covers 2007 to 2012. Since the beginning of that period, the amount of affordable housing in its district (most of Pennsylvania, half of New Jersey and all of Delaware) has declined appreciably. There were more than 274,000 extremely low-income (household income of less than 30 percent of the median family income) and very low-income (household income of less than 50 percent) renter households who could not obtain an affordable home in 2012. The number of affordable homes has declined because many households who might have become or remained homeowners were forced to rent in the aftermath of the Great Recession. In the lowest income bracket, almost three-quarters of households spent more than half of their income on housing.

This report, completed before the well-publicized mobile home park closures in State College, shows how difficult things had already become for low-income renters in our area. Of those in the lowest income category, 95 percent were not able to obtain housing that is considered affordable. Seniors or people with disabilities often struggle because of low income. But even people employed full-time are at a disadvantage in our area because the rents are so high and the university population occupies so many of the available units.

Consider a family of four in which both parents were employed in minimum-wage jobs, earning $7.25 an hour. Even with two incomes, their household did not make enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment at an average rent of $964. To be able to pay that rent, they would need to make$18.54 an hour. This family ended up in substandard housing, because they could only afford a very low rent. The substandard house was poorly maintained by its owner, which resulted in high heating costs for the renting family, and it was located far from their jobs causing greater transportation expenses.

Centre County, with its exceptional housing challenges, has only 14 affordable and available rental units per 100 extremely low-income households (down from 18 in the 2012 report).

This pressing issue needs to be a priority in our community. You can show your commitment to finding a solution by joining the Centre County Affordable Housing Coalition ( www.ccaffordablehousingcoalition.org) and working for needed changes.

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