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Report: Washington County housing stock lacks affordability

New housing statistics reveal a shortage of affordable rental units in Washington County.

The 2011 National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) report states that Minnesota ranks the worst for rental affordability among low-wage workers. And a 2010 report by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency says Washington County ranks worst among the seven metro counties in terms of rent affordability.

Housing is considered affordable if it costs less than 30 percent of a household gross income.

"If you look at the Washington County data, it says 50 percent of renters are unable to afford two-bedroom housing using the Fair Market Rent as the benchmark," said Barbara Dacy, executive director for Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

The Fair Market Rent, set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is applicable to the entire metro area.

Dacy said it's a little misleading in the sense that it's being calculated against all of the rents in the metropolitan area.

An estimated 55 percent of Minnesota renters don't earn enough to afford a two bedroom unit at Fair Market Rent, according to NLIHC. Additionally, Twin Cities metro rents are more expensive than in rural communities.

The report highlights a few counties as being the least affordable judging by the fact that 60 percent or more are unable to afford modest two bedroom apartments.

Though Washington County did not make that list, that doesn't mean it's one of the most affordable areas in the state, Dacy said.

"Using the standard of the median rent, which is the exact middle, is going to mean there are more renters out there that cannot afford rent in the county beyond the coalition report," she added.

The Minnesota Housing Partnership's latest 2010 report that breaks down data county-by-county states that 50 percent of households, at all income levels in Washington County, are paying more than 30 percent or more in rent.

Additionally, even before the economic downturn, housing needs were severe. In 2008, about 85 percent of Washington County residents owned their home and 15 percent were renters. Of those, about 29.5 percent of homeowners and 50.8 percent of renters spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing.

"The bottom line is that the county has a shortage of affordable housing," Dacy said.

The Fair Market Rent in 2010 was $899 per month for a two bedroom apartment.

"There is a continued need for housing availability to working families and also for low income seniors," Dacy said.

City of Woodbury officials say there are a variety of options in terms of selecting what's most feasible to rent.

Housing Specialist Karl Batalden said apartment occupancy rates are currently on the rise and there are speculations that rent may go up as the demand shifts upwards.

Without stating specific rent amounts, he said, "a household should be making smart decisions about what they can afford to pay."

As for being listed as one of the least affordable communities, Woodbury and Washington County did not make it as areas where more than 60 percent are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

"We're a community that offers a wide, diverse range of housing options for all people," Batalden said.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.