Business

Even $15 an hour won't be enough when it comes to paying rent in Whatcom County

Why is it so hard to find an apartment in Bellingham?

A lack of affordable units and a tight housing market make it difficult for low- and middle-income earners to find a place to rent in Bellingham.
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A lack of affordable units and a tight housing market make it difficult for low- and middle-income earners to find a place to rent in Bellingham.

It turns out Whatcom County is far from alone when it comes to not having enough affordable rental units.

There isn't a single county in the U.S. where a worker earning the minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom rental at fair market rent by working a 40-hour week, according to a study released earlier this week by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

In Whatcom County someone making the minimum wage of $11.50 an hour would have to work 69 hours a week to afford a fair market rate two-bedroom apartment unit, and 53 hours a week for a one-bedroom, according to the report. Put another way, a worker needs to make $19.77 an hour to afford a two-bedroom residential unit at the fair market rate and $15.19 an hour for a one-bedroom place.

Whatcom actually ranks ninth highest in Western Washington in terms of the hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment. In King and Snohomish counties, a $36.12-an-hour job is needed to afford a two-bedroom place. Workers in Clark, Kitsap, Pierce, San Juan, Skamania and Thurston all need higher hourly wages than Whatcom.

Despite the recent flurry of apartment construction in Bellingham, it doesn't appear this area is catching up with demand. According to a new report by Apartmentlist.com, Bellingham's average rental rate for a two-bedroom apartment this month is $1,120, a 5.1 percent increase compared to June 2017. The low-income housing coalition's report listed the fair market rent for a Whatcom two-bedroom unit at $1,028 a month.

According to a federal report on housing market trends in Bellingham, 1,475 new rental units need to be built between 2017 and 2020 to keep up with demand. The report noted that there were 680 apartment units under construction in August 2017, including the 145-unit Gather Bellingham student housing project that was completed last fall.

Across the U.S., there are only 22 counties out of more than 3,000 where someone working 40 hours a week at minimum wage could afford a one-bedroom apartment unit. The report noted that all 22 counties are in states that have a minimum wage higher than $7.25 federal rate.

In a comparison of states, Washington has the seventh largest shortfall between average renter wage and the wage needed for a two-bedroom apartment.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz
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