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Combating the affordable housing issue requires seeing and understanding data. But, what is that data? And how can the housing community use it to make progress?

Every year the National Low Income Housing Coalition (Coalition) releases a report intended to build support for more housing subsidies. What does the report routinely show? That people who earn minimum wage can't afford a two-bedroom apartment. Why does a minimum wage worker want a two-bedroom apartment? Two-bedroom apartments are more expensive that one-bedrooms and studios. And minimum wage is, well, the lowest possible wage a person can earn. Put the two together and you have housing that is "out of reach" as the report is titled. The implication of the report is, of course, "an increase in capital investments in homes affordable for the lowest income renters." What's needed instead are better measures of need and cash payments to cost burdened households.

Let's take a look at my own backyard, Seattle. Recently, median income in the city reached $80,349. Now that means that is the middle, not an average. But let's go with that because that is how housing affordability is measured, like it or not, with anyone paying more than 30 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) paying too much. If an individual or household pays 50 percent of their income on housing, they are considered "severely cost burdened." So a person making 30 percent of AMI would earn about $24,104 per year, or about $11.59 per hour. That means they should pay about $600 for housing. It is important to note that minimum wage in Seattle is a mandated $15 per hour.

The most recent United States Census has the median rent in Seattle at about $1,266. The Coalition uses the broad Seattle-Bellevue census data and nowhere shows average rents. That is, their data is expressed only as the hourly wage one would have to earn and the hours one would have to work to pay the rent in various sized apartments. They use something called Fair Market Rent, a standard established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to establish voucher payments for its programs. The Fair Market Rent for Seattle-Bellevue for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,878, according to the Coalition. However, Apartment List, for example, found the median two-bedroom in Seattle to be $1,646.

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