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In Whatcom County, housing is out of reach for minimum wage earners

Garden Street Flats apartment building under construction in Bellingham, April 4, 2017. The 14-unit building will be finished in July. In Whatcom County, the number of hours someone making minimum wage has to work jumps to 68 hours a week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment, according to a recent report.
Garden Street Flats apartment building under construction in Bellingham, April 4, 2017. The 14-unit building will be finished in July. In Whatcom County, the number of hours someone making minimum wage has to work jumps to 68 hours a week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment, according to a recent report. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

A new report estimates a Whatcom County resident making minimum wage would have to work 52 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

The national report, put together by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and the National Low Income Housing Coalition, concludes that no where in Washington state can someone making the $11 an hour minimum wage for 40 hours a week can afford a one-bedroom rental at fair market rent. The study assumes not spending more than 30 percent of income on housing costs.

“Rents are increasing across Washington at the same time homelessness is rising, and the two are not unrelated,” said Rachael Myers, executive director of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, in a news release accompanying the data.

In Whatcom County, the number of hours someone making minimum wage has to work jumps to 68 hours a week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment. The annual income needed to afford a Whatcom County rental ranges from $26,360 for a studio apartment to $68,240 for a four-bedroom housing unit. The estimated fair market rent for a studio is $659 a month, while a one-bedroom is $747 a month and a two-bedroom is $968 a month.

The study estimates that 37 percent of Whatcom County’s housing units are rentals.

The situation in the Seattle area is significantly tougher for low-wage earners. In King and Snohomish counties, a minimum wage earner would have to work 87 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom housing unit.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

SMALL INCREASE IN WHATCOM’S AVERAGE WEEKLY WAGE

Wages in Whatcom County didn’t rise much in 2016, but was still better than most U.S. counties.

The average weekly wage in Whatcom County was $852 at the end of 2016, a 0.1 percent increase compared to the end of 2015, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to the data, 290 of the 345 largest U.S. counties experienced a year-over-year decline. The average weekly wage for the U.S. declined 1.5 percent to $1,067. It is only the eighth decline in the history of the series, which dates back to 1978, according to the report.

Whatcom’s weekly wage ranks ninth highest out of Washington state’s 10 most populous counties, according to the report. King County tops the list at $1,479 a week, followed by Snohomish ($1,114 a week) and Benton ($1,013 a week). Yakima had the lowest weekly wage among the 10 counties, coming in at $736 a week.

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