Is DC Really Affordable?

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on April 17, 2015


I'm glad to see I'm not the only one thinking about the limits of the "30 percent of your income" housing affordability definition.

This Washington City Paper article gets into the idea that housing and transportation together is a better measure of affordability, but then also addresses the idea that I have also raised that "how much disposable income you have left over after paying for housing" might be a better measure of whether your housing costs too much than what percentage you are paying.

It's an interesting application of this angle to note that DC Millenials' salaries are enough higher than those in many other cities that's DC's could be considered "more affordable" for them than other cities, such as Baltimore, even though they are spending a median 44 percent of their income on rent.

It's definitely a noteworthy point that a median earner with a median 1-BR apartment in Boston or San Francisco would be much worse off than one in DC, and folks in cheaper cost of living cities not necessarily better off.

But does that mean the city is really "affordable"?

After all, the critique of the 30 percent housing affordability measure says that housing costs are always going to fall hardest on the poor. So to say that DC is really a more affordable city broadly speaking you should be at least as interested, if not more, in how well it houses its lower income workers and fixed-income seniors, rather than its professional Millienials.

How do wages on the lower end of the scale in DC compare to elsewhere? I don't have an answer to that; minimum wage in DC is going up to $9.50/hour—no where near, for example, Seattle's groundbreaking $15. Perhaps that's the next number crunching the Office of Revenue can take on.

(Photo credit: Flickr user Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0)

About the author more »

Miriam Axel-Lute is editor of Shelterforce and associate director of the National Housing Institute. Her email is miriam at nhi dot org.

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