Strain of rent on wages in WA is among highest in U.S., report finds

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Most workers in Washington are spending too much of their income on rent, according to a new report.

The report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that Washington has the fifth highest “housing wage” in the country. That’s the amount a person must make to afford a two-bedroom home without spending more than 30% of their income on housing.

To afford a two-bedroom home in Washington – based on fair market rent prices – a renter needs to make more than $40 an hour, or $83,865 a year. The average renter in Washington makes just under $29 an hour, and those who are paid minimum wage make $16.28 an hour.

“Rents are rising far, far, far greater than incomes,” said Michele Thomas, director of policy and advocacy for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. “Washington’s households are hurting.”

The national Out of Reach report compares average wages and average rents across the country. Based on 2024 data, no minimum wage worker in any state, metropolitan area or county in the country can afford a two-bedroom rental home at fair market rent without spending more than 30% of their wages.

This is a growing gap that the coalition says will only increase homelessness.

“Even amid an improving economic landscape, low-wage workers and other renters continue to struggle with the high cost of rent,” Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement. “Homelessness is a housing problem, and expanding housing assistance is the best way to reverse rising rates of homelessness.”

Washington housing advocates and lawmakers have been trying to find ways to help keep costs low for the state’s more than 1 million renters with proposals to cap annual rent increases or build more affordable housing. But capping rents remains controversial and affordable housing supply is not keeping pace with the need.

A separate report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University last week found renters in many cities in Washington are considered “cost-burdened,” or paying more than 30% of their income on housing.

When a household is considered rent-burdened, it can be hard to come back from a steep rent increase, an uptick in expenses or an emergency, Thomas said.

“I don’t know how many times we need to say it, but we need to do something about these massive rent increases,” said Thomas, who has helped push for an annual rent cap proposal in the Legislature.

A proposal like this failed to make it through the Legislature last session after receiving pushback from business groups, landlords, Republicans and some moderate Democrats who said it could force landlords out of business and have other unintended consequences on the housing market.

Washington’s stats

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition report, statewide fair market rent – determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – for a two-bedroom apartment in Washington is $2,097.

That means someone getting paid minimum wage would have to work 99 hours a week to avoid paying more than 30% of their income on a two-bedroom apartment. To afford a one-bedroom apartment – averaged at $1,756 – they would have to work 83 hours a week.

Seniors, those with a disability and others who rely on federal Supplemental Security Income also face large gaps in what they can afford to pay. Without spending more than 30% of their income on housing, those who receive SSI payments can only spend $294 a month on rent, according to the report.

What it takes to afford a rental home also depends on where you live.

In rural areas, for example, the hourly wage to afford a two-bedroom apartment is much lower at $23.70. The average cost for a two-bedroom apartment in non-metro areas is $1,232.

Major cities in the Puget Sound region have the highest housing costs. Those in the Seattle-Bellevue area need to make $50.87 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Those in the Bremerton-Silverdale area are the next highest with a housing wage of $39.40.

The metropolitan area with the lowest housing wage is Stevens County where renters need to make $18.42 to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

— By Laurel Demkovich, Washington State Standard 

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and X.

  1. Renter protections, rules and regulations, high property taxes, high cost to build, growing population, landlords rental requirements. Guess you will just need a roommate or two or move to a more affordable area.

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