by Rick Nathanson, Albuquerque Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A full-time head of household, working at New Mexico’s minimum wage, would have to clock 86 hours per week to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment, according to the just released “Out of Reach 2016” study.

The study was conducted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy organization, and the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness.

Every year, Out of Reach reports on the housing wage for states, counties and metropolitan areas throughout the country. The report highlights the gap between what renters earn and what it costs to afford quality housing at fair market value, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD defines affordable housing as housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a person or a family’s monthly income.

Fair market rent for a modest two-bedroom apartment that meets HUD housing quality standards averages $835 a month for New Mexico and $941 a month for Bernalillo County, said Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness.

“What the study tells us is that there is no county anywhere in New Mexico where a 40-hour-a-week minimum wage job gets you any kind of decent housing,” he said.

A 2015 report from New Mexico Voices for Children showed that there were 95,180 people in New Mexico who were over the age of 20 and in the minimum wage workforce. Most were heads or co-heads of their household, and about a third of them have one or more children.

A typical renter in New Mexico would have to earn on average $16 an hour to afford decent housing at fair market price, according to HUD standards, and a renter in Albuquerque would need to earn $18 an hour.

Working at the state’s minimum wage of $7.50 – which is 25 cents an hour greater than the federal minimum wage – a family wishing to live in a modest two-bedroom apartment in New Mexico must have 2.1 wage earners each working 40 hours a week, or one full-time earner working 86 hours per week, the Out of Reach study said. In Albuquerque, it would require 2.4 wage earners working full time, or one full-time earner working 96 hours.

“Obviously the minimum wage needs to be higher, probably at least $15 an hour, which gets us close, but we also need more subsidized housing for people who live on fixed incomes and people with disabilities, because a raise in the minimum wage doesn’t really help them” because they’re usually not working, Hughes said.

Studies done in communities across the country have consistently found it is less expensive to put the most medically fragile and chronically homeless into subsidized housing, rather than leave them out on the streets, where they often get caught up in the criminal justice system, generate a large portion of calls for emergency first responders, and use expensive hospital emergency room services when they become ill, Hughes said.

Statewide, it is estimated there are 8,000 people experiencing homelessness.

“But there’s another group in the middle who pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent, but still somehow manage to make it work by sacrificing somewhere else,” Hughes said.

These people are on the edge of becoming homeless if they experience job loss or a medical emergency, he said.

Copyright 2016, Albuquerque Journal