Oklahomans working a full-time job should be able to provide basic needs for themselves and their families, but 2 in 5 Oklahomans are unable to afford a stable home working one full-time job. The combination of rising housing costs and stagnant wages is keeping too many Oklahomans from being able to secure safe and stable housing for their families. To address this affordable housing crisis policymakers must find solutions that close the gap between housing costs and wages.
Rental housing is out of reach for most of the bottom half of Oklahoma wage earners
Even for full-time workers, wages are insufficient to afford housing for Oklahoma’s low-wage earners. More than 1 in 5 Oklahomans working a single, full-time job cannot afford a modest one-bedroom rental at fair market rent, while 2 in 5 cannot afford a two-bedroom rental. For a single caregiver, working full-time often doesn’t pay enough to provide a home for their family. Without an influx of more affordable housing or an increase in wages, working adults will continue to struggle to provide a stable home for their families.
More than half of the state’s most common professions don’t pay enough to afford housing
Workers employed in more than half of the state’s most common professions don’t make enough to afford a modest home or apartment. An Oklahoma worker needs to make $16.61 per hour to afford a two-bedroom rental home. However, on average, 17 of the 30 most common professions in Oklahoma — including teacher assistants, home health aides, and customer service representatives — pay less than that. Other professions that often don’t pay enough to afford modest housing include emergency medical technicians, childcare workers, medical assistants, and phlebotomists. Workers in these professions provide vital services to our state. At a bare minimum, they should be able to afford a roof over their head in exchange for that work.
Housing costs are nearly impossible to afford for a minimum wage worker who supports a family. (And it’s worth remembering that more than half of Oklahomans working for minimum wage are 25 years old or older.) A person working a minimum wage job at $7.25 per hour has to work 73 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom rental home at fair market rent. To afford a two-bedroom house or apartment, a minimum wage worker would need to work 92 hours per week – the equivalent of more than two full-time jobs. There simply aren’t enough hours in the week for minimum wage earners to work enough for housing and care for their children or dependents.
Policymakers should support affordable housing development
One main reason that a stable home is out of reach for most low-income workers: Oklahoma has a severe shortage of deeply affordable housing, which is housing that can be secured by individuals who earn below 30 percent of the median income for the area. Oklahoma needs 71,160 additional homes or apartments that are affordable and available for such extremely low income households (households that make less than $26,200 per year for a family of four). In Oklahoma, there are only 46 homes available for every 100 extremely low income renter households. Two in three extremely low income households are severely cost burdened, meaning they spend more than half of their income on housing costs. These families are more likely than other renters to sacrifice necessities like food or health care to pay rent. If Oklahomans had better access to affordable housing options, it would mean families would not have to face the terrible choice between a home and putting food on the table or getting a needed car repair.
Oklahoma policymakers must find ways to greatly increase our stock of affordable housing. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) is a great federal program that provides dollars to state and local agencies to promote affordable housing development. In addition to the federal credit, Oklahoma has a state-based Affordable Housing Tax Credit. The Oklahoma Housing Finance Authority administers the federal LIHTC tax credits along with state tax credits through the Oklahoma Affordable Housing Tax Credit program.The state credit has a $4 million annual statewide cap set by the Oklahoma legislature. Between 2015 and 2021, Oklahoma’s Affordable Housing Tax Credit program supported the construction and renovation of 3,723 housing units in 35 communities and 30 counties. These projects will be life savers for low-income families in these communities, but developers will need much more support to build the more than over 71,000 units the state needs to fill the demand for deeply affordable housing. While more federal investments in low-income housing are needed, state lawmakers can help fill the affordable housing gap by increasing the annual cap on the state Affordable Housing Tax Credit. In addition to increasing funding for the Affordable Housing Tax Credit program, policymaker support should include updating zoning laws to allow for more affordable housing options, such as multifamily housing, manufactured homes, and accessory dwelling units – structures that are often severely restricted in most municipalities, but have proved effective in addressing housing shortages.
The minimum wage should keep pace with rising housing costs
In addition to more affordable housing options, workers need wages that cover life’s needs. The minimum wage was established to create a living wage for low-income workers and to protect workers from exploitation. Oklahoma’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has been unchanged since 2009 and has not kept up with inflation and rising housing costs. Rent is up 27.6 percent in Tulsa and 25.7 percent in Oklahoma City since March 2020. Affordable rent (rent that makes up no more than 30 percent of household income) for a minimum wage worker is $377 per month. However, fair market rent for a one-bedroom rental in Oklahoma is $684 per month and $863 per month for a two-bedroom rental. Making matters worse, the current annual inflation rate is 8.3 percent with energy prices and food costs experiencing the largest increases since April 1981. Without adjustment for the true cost of living, the minimum wage is not living up to its intended purpose. State policymakers should increase the state’s minimum wage and/or lift the restrictions on municipalities increasing their own minimum wage.
The need for affordable housing is urgent
Everyday Oklahomans respect the value of work and will tell you that a person working a full-time job should be able to meet their basic needs. Yet, for many such working Oklahomans, affordable housing is out of reach, and that gap continues to increase with each passing month. Hard-working Oklahomans doing their best to provide for their families are facing housing instability, eviction, and homelessness. There are actions Oklahoma policymakers can take to lessen the gap between stagnant wages and rising housing costs. These actions include increasing tax credits that encourage construction of affordable housing, updating zoning regulations to allow for more affordable housing development, and raising the minimum wage.