Finding affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges for veterans adjusting to civilian life.
More than 30% of young vets, aged 18 to 24 years, are unemployed, and even employed veterans are struggling to meet their basic needs, according to the latest "Paycheck to Paycheck" report from the Center for Housing Policy.
The new study focuses on housing affordability for five of the jobs targeted by training programs sponsored by the Department of Labor in partnership with the military and other organizations: carpenters, dental assistants, electricians, firefighters, and truck drivers.
Despite recent declines in home prices, veterans working in these jobs do not earn enough to afford to buy a median-priced house in many markets. The report examines the gap between wages and housing costs in more than 200 U.S. metro areas.
Of the five jobs highlighted, only electricians earn enough on average to afford a mortgage at typical prices nationwide. They were able to afford a median-priced home in 72% of the metro areas and rents in more than 90%. However, even an electrician’s salary will still not cover the costs for a typical home or a one-bedroom apartment in the most expensive housing markets.
In addition, many still face barriers to ownership related to obtaining credit and saving for a down payment.
Dental assistants, who earn between $26,532 and $40,148, fared the worst. For these workers, ownership was an affordable option in just 22% of the markets. Renting was just as difficult. A modest two-bedroom apartment is out of reach in more than half of the markets for dental assistants.
The salaries used in the study reflect workers with a few years of experience, so the affordability challenges are even greater for entry-level employees.
Researchers focused on veterans because their housing needs have been an area of interest for the Center for Housing Policy, the research affiliate of the National Housing Conference. "It is also a good stepping stone for talking about the housing needs of all Americans," said researcher and report author Laura Williams.
Several permanent affordable housing developments have recently opened to help meet the needs of formerly homeless and low-income veterans, including Volunteers of America’s (VOA’s) Hope Manor Apartments in Chicago, which can house up to 80 veterans and provides comprehensive services.
The national nonprofit has been delivering services to vets for more than 30 years and transitional housing for longer than that, said Patrick Sheridan, the organization’s senior vice president for housing development.
Statistics show that 75,609 vets are homeless on any given night, and twice as many experience homelessness during a year. "Right now, the number of homeless Vietnam-era veterans is greater than the number of service persons who died during that war," Sheridan said.
Now, veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are appearing in the homeless population, added Sheridan.
"Volunteers of America is committed to ending homelessness for those on the street and preventing others from becoming homeless by providing a wide array of well-designed and managed services to meet the specific needs of homeless veterans," he said.
VOA has found that more than 50% of the vets living in its transitional housing for six months achieve the target outcome of stable, adequate permanent housing, and half of those are still in permanent housing after 12 months.
Although the majority of metro areas have seen a drop in the income needed to buy a median-priced home, there were 21 markets, or 10% of the areas studied, where the income needed increased by 3% or more between the first quarters of 2011 and 2012.
The most expensive homeownership market in the first quarter was San Francisco, where the median-price home was about $549,000. The other Top 10 most expensive metros were San Jose, Calif.; Honolulu, Hawaii; New York; Santa Ana, Calif.; Santa Cruz, Calif.; Ocean City, N.J.; Suffolk-Nassau, N.Y.; Oxnard, Calif.; and San Luis Obispo, Calif.
The most expensive rental market in the first quarter was also San Francisco, where the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,905. San Francisco was followed by Honolulu; Suffolk-Nassau; Santa Ana; San Jose; Bethesda, Md.; Washington, D.C.; Santa Cruz; Los Angeles; and Oxnard.
"Paycheck to Paycheck" is a tool for local and state policymakers, according to Williams. It demonstrates how there is a need for affordable housing in just about every community.
It shows how many people can’t live in the very communities where they work as firefighters or perform other necessary jobs. As a result, key members of the workforce are pushed to live far from their jobs, resulting in long commutes and added transportation costs.