La Plata County residents who earn minimum wage would be required to work two full-time jobs to rent a two-bedroom home, according to a report released by an affordable housing advocacy group from Washington, D.C.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual report determined that La Plata County residents must earn at least $18.60 an hour to rent a two-bedroom home at fair market value without having to spend 30 percent of their income on housing. That equates to an annual salary of $38,680.
The report concludes that Colorado has the 12th highest housing wage in the United States, with an hourly wage of $21.97 needed to afford a two-bedroom home, which equates to an annual income of $45,707. Colorado is one of 17 states that requires a wage above $20 per hour to meet that housing standard.
The numbers for the county have decreased since last year, when $19.17 was required to rent a two-bedroom apartment. The county trended opposite of the state, which increased from $21.12 a year ago.
“None of this is really a surprise to us,” Executive Director of Housing Solutions for the Southwest Elizabeth Salkind said. She said the cost of living has risen three times faster than the amount wages have in the last decade.
La Plata County has the 17th highest housing wage gap in the state, according to the report. Pitkin County, which encompasses the town of Aspen, is the most expensive county to live in with a housing wage level of $30.75.
The state average requires 95 hours a week at minimum wage to afford a two-bedroom home.
The fair market rent for a two-bedroom home in La Plata County is $967 a month, nearly $200 less than the Colorado average of $1,143. There are 453 affordable housing subsidized units in the county, Salkind said.
The study assumed 30 percent of a homeowner’s income would be used for housing, a benchmark outlined in federal guidelines. At that threshold, the government considers homeowners “cost-burdened,” meaning they would likely struggle to pay for other essentials, such as food, transportation and medical care.
Housing Solutions for the Southwest collects an assortment of data comparing living expenses and wages, and it asserts that half of homeowners in La Plata County dedicate 50 percent of their income toward housing, nearly double what is considered viable.
Salkind believes the expense for renting homes, especially studios or one bedroom homes, is actually more expensive than what the report says.
“What we’ve found is, that is not really what you find when you go out there,” Salkind said. “Because there’s such a shortage of those in particular, we are finding that landlords are charging a lot for the small units.”
The coalition determined that there is no place in the United States where a minimum wage salary could cover the cost of a two-bedroom home.
The report comes as Colorado is amid the first year of increasing minimum wage, as Amendment 70 passed last November. Under the new law, the minimum wage will increase every year by 90 cents until 2020, when the minimum wage reaches $12. Colorado minimum wage is currently $9.30.