Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How far does a health worker’s paycheck have to stretch to pay for housing?

by Janet Viveiros, National Housing Conference 

The health sector is undergoing rapid growth as it expands to meet increasing demand for health care services. This trend is expected to lead to rising numbers of job opportunities for health workers, particularly those who work in doctors’ offices and visit patients in their homes. In light of the sluggish economic recovery, job growth is certainly positive news.

Is Housing Affordable for Health Workers?

However, even though the outlook for the health care industry is bright, it is less positive for health workers. Many health workers currently struggle to afford housing in a place near where they work. Lower-income workers such as home health aides, medical billing clerks and medical records transcriptionists face sizable gaps between housing costs and what they can afford to pay. For example, in Honolulu, a home health aide would have to spend nearly 75 percent of her paycheck each month on rent for a two-bedroom home at fair market rent. These affordability gaps are often widest in high-cost metro areas on the coasts, but exist throughout the country.

Even health workers with moderate incomes, such as case managers and geriatric nurses, struggle to find affordable housing in many places where they are in demand. If a geriatric nurse in San Francisco wanted to buy a median priced home, she would have to dedicate almost 85 percent of her salary each month to her mortgage and other housing costs.

Health care workers are not the only workers facing serious housing affordability challenges. Visit the recently released Paycheck to Paycheck database to compare wages for workers in 80 different occupations to housing costs in 210 metro areas, and to learn more about housing affordability for other workers.

What is the Solution?

We cannot assume that the wages of workers will increase enough to improve housing affordability across the board. Many sectors, including the health sector, rely on workers with various skill levels at various wage levels. Even relatively well paid health workers find expensive places unaffordable. Communities must develop and pursue strategies to ensure there are enough housing options at different prices to house all of the community’s essential workers.

Many effective strategies and policies will be discussed in Oakland this November at our annual Solutions Conference. Join us to learn more about what you can do in your community to provide adequate housing for all.


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