More households struggle to afford rent, report finds

As Mecklenburg County grows, affordable housing is a greater problem. Photo: Nancy Pierce

Almost half the Mecklenburg County households who rent are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their gross income on housing costs. One significant contributing factor is that from 2008 to 2013, the median gross rent in the county increased 2 percent, while median family income decreased by 12 percent.

Those are two of the findings from a UNC Charlotte Urban Institute report examining housing instability. It was funded by Mecklenburg County and was done on behalf of the Housing Advisory Board of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The report, Housing Instability in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, discusses various factors to consider when measuring housing instability and affordability, the barriers and impacts of housing instability, and data from Charlotte-Mecklenburg on housing and cost-burdened households.  The report is the third in a series of reports funded by the county that explore housing instability and homelessness.

The report uses data from sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy dataset to dive into the topic of housing cost burden and to analyze differences in housing cost burden for both renters and homeowners.

In 2013, a little more than a quarter of homeowners were cost-burdened compared to almost half of renter households. The picture is even starker for lower-income households. Ninety percent of extremely low-income renter and owner households (meaning households earning less than 30 percent of median family income for the area) are cost-burdened.  For an extremely low-income household of four, this could include heads of households in jobs such as childcare workers, nursing assistants, crossing guards and teacher assistants.  

Using findings from the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s report, Out of Reach 2015, the report discusses the concept of a housing wage – how much a household would have to make working 40 hours per week to afford a unit at fair market rent.  Fair market rent is determined by HUD and is the combined rent and utility cost that would be required to be paid in a housing market for decent housing. For instance, to afford a two-bedroom unit at fair market rent ($831) a full-time worker would have to make $15.98 per hour.  However, in Mecklenburg County the minimum wage is $7.25. That means that to afford a two-bedroom rental unit at fair market rate, you’d have to work 88 hours per week.

The findings suggest the need for further community conversations and collaborations about housing, as Charlotte-Mecklenburg continues to grow.

“Left unaddressed, these problems affect the larger community,” said Stacy Lowry, director of Mecklenburg County Community Support Services, in a letter accompanying the report. “The findings from this report underscore the urgency for our community to address housing instability and the lack of affordable housing in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.”

See previous report from UNC Charlotte Urban Institute examining the wait list for Charlotte Housing Authority vouchers.