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August 10, 2005
Pay Isn't Keeping Up with Housing Costs

The cost of housing is far outpacing pay increases for low- and moderate-income jobs, a nonprofit group reports.

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The Center for Housing Policy, a research affiliate of the Washington-based National Housing Conference, says that even cities once considered affordable, such as Tulsa, Oklahoma, are rapidly becoming too pricey for lower-income workers, such as janitors and retail sales employees.

The Center bases its conclusions on study data that it released Tuesday and made available on its website, linked below.

In just 18 months, the Center reports, the median price of a home in the United States rose 20 percent, to $225,000. Meanwhile, wages for teachers, firefighters, and nurses in most cities remained flat or increased slightly. Even where they increased, wages still fell far short of the annual salary needed to buy a house.

For example, the median household income for a nurse rose 10 percent between 2003 and 2005, to about $36,000. For a firefighter, wages were flat, remaining at about $37,000 a year. Those salaries don't come close to the $71,000 annual income needed to qualify to purchase a $225,000 home, according to the Center. The number is based on a down payment of 10 percent.

The study looked at incomes for more than 60 occupations, from janitors to accountants. It examined housing prices for nearly 200 metropolitan areas from the fourth quarter of 2003 to the first quarter of this year.

While it's no surprise to see San Francisco, New York, and Boston topping the list of least-affordable cities, Center officials told the Associated Press that cities like Tulsa and Minneapolis--traditionally regarded as more affordable--are now a concern.

"We're seeing a problem in areas where you'd expect and then beyond that because of the flatness of the wage growth and the increased pressures on home prices and rents," said Barbara Lipman, the research director for the Center. "Even though we have historically low interest rates, that doesn't solve the problem."

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