“All I could afford was really far out, and in really bad shape,” says Griffith, 32.
“We’re not talking about aesthetics — the color of paint in the kitchen,” she says. “We’re talking about having a functioning kitchen.”
Affordable housing is a chronic problem in the Washington area, where nearly a third of homes sold last year cost $500,000 or more, according to data from Rockville-based multiple listing service MRIS.
Renting is also a problem. In order to afford a District home renting for $1,412 a month, while meeting the affordability standard of 30 percent of income, a person needs to earn $56,480 a year, according to National Low Income Housing Coalition. A minimum-wage worker would have to work 132 hours a week to meet that standard.
“The need for affordable housing is so great,” says Nina Janopaul, president of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing and president of the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers. “We’re so overwhelmed.”
In the District this year, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) set aside $100 million for affordable housing, and a city task force has established a goal of creating or preserving 10,000 affordable units by 2020. Developers are including affordable units in new projects from Tysons Corner to Silver Spring. And last month , housing officials and experts gathered at the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers meeting to discuss what more can be done to address the demand for affordable housing.
Recent studies by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis forecast that job growth in lower-wage sectors, such as construction and health services, would create even more demand for affordable and moderately priced housing over the next five years.
Of course, what’s affordable for a two-income family with high-paying jobs isn’t for a single parent working as a elementary school teacher.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines “affordable” based on median income — in the Washington metro area, that’s $107,500. Its Housing Affordability Index assumes a salary of 60 percent of the median, says Janopaul. Using the standard of spending 30 percent of income on housing, a mortgage or rent payment should thus be about $1,600 per month.
That is out of reach for many people. For those coming out of homelessness and domestic violence, for those whose incomes are limited by disabilities or other factors, housing voucher programs, once known as Section 8, are designed to provide additional help. But such programs are oversubscribed.
Affordable options that are farther away from jobs in the District cause transportation costs to increase and may create hardships for working families whose children are in school hours from their parents’ workplaces, experts say.