Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibilityStudy: DC rent is 3rd highest in the country; Here's how much income you need to afford it | WJLA
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Study: DC rent is 3rd highest in the country; Here's how much income you need to afford it

Income Needed to Pay Rent in America's Largest Cities (Image and data: Smart Asset)
Income Needed to Pay Rent in America's Largest Cities (Image and data: Smart Asset)
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The D.C. Council unanimously voted on the first step of the city’s Comprehensive Plan for development last week.

A spokesperson for Mayor Bowser’s office said she will likely unveil the remaining elements of the comprehensive plans as well as area housing targets and maps on October 15.

The comprehensive plan includes proposed solutions to the city’s affordable housing shortage – an issue that elected officials and advocates are coming together to try to fix.

The plan will go through review by the National Capital Planning Commission and Congress before it gets to the mayor’s desk for signing, the mayor’s spokesperson said.

A recent analysis by financial advice company Smart Asset said an individual needs to earn around $133,000 before taxes to afford the average apartment rental price in Washington, D.C.

The analysis considers the generally accepted standard of not spending more than 30 percent of gross income on housing. Consumers who spend more than that on housing are considered “cost-burdened,” according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

SmartAsset analysts used a 28 percent threshold and found that households in the nation’s capital still don’t earn close to what is needed to afford the average $3100 rental price tag.

The median income in the district is around $82,000, which is $50,000 less than what would be required to have a healthy income-to-rent ratio. Smart Asset used Zillow data for the analysis because, according to a company spokesperson, census data was too dated. Experts say, however, that Zillow data can skew to higher cost rental estimates.

Numbers from the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimate that over 50 percent of residents living in the D.C. metro area are renters.

According to NLIHC, the median family income for both renters and buyers is $121,000. This means families can afford to pay $3,000 a month for rent without being cost-burdened.

HUDs estimate of a fair market rent that recent movers paid for a modest two-bedroom apartment in D.C. was $1665, but 60 percent of rents are currently higher according to the NLIHC.

For those in the fortieth percentile, in order to afford $1665 without being “cost-burdened” an individual would have to earn $66,000 a year, or $5500 monthly, the NLIHC estimates.

Assuming a 40-hour workweek, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into $32.02 an hour. Working at the minimum wage of $14.00 an hour in D.C. each week an individual would have to work 90 hours weekly at two jobs to afford a modest apartment.

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Cheryl Cort, policy director for Coalition for Smarter Growth, an organization dedicated to bettering the district believes lack of affordable housing is one of the greatest challenges D.C. faces.

“Housing insecurity worsens other conditions in a person's life. Many DC residents face daunting challenges -- lack of access to quality education and training, violent neighborhoods, poor health status, low wage jobs and unstable employment. Lack of access to stable, quality housing compounds all these problems, and is also one of the solutions to a number of these problems,” Cort said.

Cort said the CSG stands behind the mayor’s housing strategy. In May, the mayor signed an order directing District agencies to identify new policies, tools, and initiatives that would start moving toward the goal of creating 36,000 new housing units, 12,000 of them affordable, by 2025.

In September, independent, nonprofit association the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, of which Mayor Bowser is a member, voted to set three regional targets to address unmet housing needs in D.C. In a non-binding resolution that is essentially an agreement to collaborate, the group called for the addition of at least 320,000 housing units in the region and say most of those should be affordable to low-and middle-income households.

The COG has a membership of 300 elected officials from 24 local governments, the Maryland and Virginia state legislatures, and U.S. Congress. The next step is for officials to go back to their individual jurisdictions and vote according to a group spokesperson.

Hilary Silver, Chair of the Department of Sociology at George Washington University said part of the problem is that builders are constructing new units exclusively targeted at high-income individuals because the region is anticipating even more demand with the coming of Amazon.

“While the cost of renting has increased, wages of working-class and lower-income workers have stagnated, so their rent burden rises. As for location of new units, zoning has pushed most newly build units into SW and SE,” Silver said.

Economic indicators from the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer released in August showed average rents higher in the district. The offices’ numbers also reflected increased employment, wages, and salaries.

Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist for National Association of Realtors said despite an uptick in employment, wages and salaries the cost of housing is rising “much faster” than income in D.C. and suburbs in Maryland and Virginia not just for renters – for homeowners too.

“People are coming to the area, but we are not producing enough homes, for ownership and for renting,” Yun said. National Association of Realtors data shows the median home price is $465,000 in the D.C. area. “Expect home prices to rise in the future if construction lags behind job growth,” Yun said.

Regardless of how the numbers add up, whether you’re renting or buying, one thing is clear – officials and advocates think housing in D.C. is too expensive.

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“Bold action to address housing affordability requires the entire city’s input and energy,” Cort said.

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