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Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Tim Funk, housing director for Crossroads Urban Center, discusses the worsening situation for Utah renters in trying to afford housing.

A national report released Tuesday reinforces what thousands of Utah renters already know — finding affordable housing is hard and getting harder.

According to the annual study, titled "Out of Reach," the current fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Utah is $678, compared to $675 last year. To afford the monthly rate, a household must earn $13.04 per hour — 253 percent of the current minimum wage.

"What all these figures show is that being a poor person in Utah is a hell of a lot more difficult than it used to be, and it's going to stay that way for the foreseeable future," said Tim Funk, housing director for Crossroads Urban Center and a board member of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which released Tuesday's report.

Utah renters earn, on average, $9.92 an hour. In order to afford the state's fair market rent at that wage, renters must work 53 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, according to the study.

With Utah's rapidly rising housing costs, advocates on Tuesday said they estimate the state's housing wage at $15 — $1.96 an hour higher than the amount included in the national study.

"Right now, housing in Utah is becoming more and more expensive by the month," Funk said. "It's even more expensive for low-income people."

At more than $3 less than the national housing wage of $16.31, Utah ranks 24th in terms of housing affordability, according to the study.

Though the ranking is one place higher than last year's, community advocates say the situation is actually worse for the poorest Utahns.

"We have more rich, we have a stronger middle class, and we have more people who are poorer than they've ever been," Funk said.

Between 35,000 and 36,000 Utahns currently receive some type of housing subsidy, according to Funk. Advocates estimate about four times that many people actually need help.

Tuesday's study indicates that the housing picture is even more bleak in some Utah counties, where renters must earn well over the $13.04 rate to afford housing. Tara Rollins, executive director of the Utah Housing Coalition, pointed specifically to Summit and Washington counties as trouble areas.

In Summit County, the report states, renters must make $19.58 an hour, or $40,720 annually, to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent of $1,018.

And in Washington County, Rollins said that although the study indicates the fair market rent is $650, county officials report that rents for two-bedroom apartments are actually now between $725 and $800 monthly.

Advocates for raising the state's minimum wage pointed to Tuesday's report as further proof that an increase is needed.

"The biggest thing that this study shows is that, once again, people cannot afford to live on $5.15 an hour," said Bill Tibbetts with Crossroads Urban Center.

Even a family with two wage earners could not afford the $13.04 housing rate if each made minimum wage, Tibbetts noted. A measure to raise the wage to $7.25 hour will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session, which would just barely allow workers to afford housing at no more than 30 percent of their income.

Advocates on Tuesday also called for the full removal of sales tax on food; an increase in funding for the Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund, which funds affordable housing projects across the state; and the establishment of a national low-income housing trust fund as ways to help all Utahns access quality, affordable housing.

Quick facts

To afford a two-bedroom apartment in Utah, a renter must make $13.04 an hour, which is 253 percent of the minimum wage.

To afford an average, two-bedroom apartment in Summit County, a renter must make 380 percent of the minimum wage, or $19.58 an hour.

Minimum-wage workers must work 101 hours a week to afford an average two-bedroom unit.

An extremely low-income household ($17,341 annual income) can afford a monthly rent of no more than $434.

Source: Utah Housing Coalition

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com