Connecticut Renters Are Living To Rent, Not Renting To Live

Community Perspectives: Sydney Gagon, student at University of Connecticut and resident of Norwich, CT.

Devon Norton, a 19-year-old from Norwich, moved out of his house two years ago after his parents moved to different states. The first place Norton lived was a singular room in a house in Norwich where he was charged $700 per month. While the rent was affordable as a full-time worker at Jersey Mike’s, the occasional gunshots he heard in his neighborhood convinced him he needed to move.

Now he and his girlfriend rent a studio apartment in New London for $1,650 per month, which does not include the cost of water and electricity. While earning approximately $2,400 per month from a retail job, Norton believes that paying his current rental rate would be too difficult without sharing the cost with his girlfriend. “I wouldn’t be able to afford rent right now if there wasn’t two of us,” he said.

Norton lives in just one of 471,821 renter households in Connecticut, according to the 2023 Out of Reach report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. When considering how much he earned at a minimum wage job before moving out for the first time, Norton believed the only way he could have been able to afford rent was if his monthly car expenses did not exist.

According to the NLIHC report, a Connecticut renter who works a full-time minimum wage job should be able to comfortably afford a rental rate of $780 per month. However, most Connecticut renters are unable to find rental homes that offer this rate or less. The 2022 American Community Survey reported that the cost of rent for 74.8% of occupied rental units in Connecticut totals to at least $1,000 per month.

The Out of Reach report also found that the fair market rent for a one-bedroom rental in Connecticut is $1,347 per month, which is nearly 73% more than the affordable rate. This cost of fair market rent, which the NLIHC defines as an estimate of what to expect to pay for a modestly priced rental home in a given area, would demand a total of 69 minimum wage work hours per week. As a result, the resident would have to work more than one full-time job to afford to live on their own.

These totals suggest that living with other roommates may be a necessity for many low wage workers, as the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Connecticut is just $347 more per month than a one-bedroom apartment. However, splitting the rental cost with a roommate does not change the fact that Connecticut renters need to earn the ninth largest housing wage in the United States to afford a two-bedroom apartment, according to the report.

This housing wage is $31.93 per hour, and the NLIHC defines this as an estimate of the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford fair market rent without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs. According to the report, spending no more than 30% of income on housing costs is the “accepted standard of affordability.”

Not only does this indicate that two minimum wage workers earning $15 per hour would not be able to afford the fair market rent of a two-bedroom apartment in Connecticut, but a singular minimum wage worker would not be able to afford rent by themselves without neglecting other life expenses in the process. “When low-income households spend more than half their income on housing, they have little if any money to spend on other necessities, such as food, childcare, transportation, and healthcare,” said the NLIHC in the report.

The cost of rent poses a challenge for minimum wage workers in Connecticut and the entire country. According to the NLIHC, in only 7% of counties nationwide can a full-time minimum-wage worker afford a one-bedroom rental home at the fair market rent. The NLIHC also states that there is currently no place in the U.S. where a minimum wage worker can afford a modest two-bedroom rental home at the fair market rent by working a standard 40-hour work week.

The NLHIC aims to influence the change of policies that would improve the quality of the lives of renters not only in Connecticut, but in the U.S. as a whole. The reports suggests that federal resources are essential for bridging the gap between income and housing costs. According to the report, Congress should significantly increase funding for rental assistance through the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which helps renters afford housing in the private market.

The NLIHC also advocates for the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, which would provide nearly $45 billion annually for the national Housing Trust Fund. This fund provides funding to states for the preservation and creation of affordable housing for renters with extremely low incomes, according to the report. Among many others, these long-term investments would be a step in the right direction to improve the quality of life for many renters in the United States.

“Stable, affordable housing is a prerequisite for basic well-being,” the report stated.

For more data on the struggle to afford housing in Connecticut, see the Partnership’s factsheet “Connecticut’s Housing Wage 2023.”

This blog piece is a republication of an op-ed with CT Mirror, originally published 12/5/23.

Photo of Sydney Gagon
Sydney Gagon, student at University of Connecticut and resident of Norwich, CT
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