As housing costs continue to increase faster than wages, millions of working families will spend the holidays struggling to pay for their homes, while many others will bring in the New Year without a home at all, according to a new report released Monday by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The report, “Out of Reach: 2004,” finds that the national Housing Wage for 2004 is $15.37 an hour, or $31,970 a year, almost three times the federal minimum wage. The housing wage represents the amount a full-time worker must earn to be able to afford the rent for a modest two-bedroom home while paying no more than 30 percent of income for housing.

The national housing wage for 2003 was $15.21 an hour, or $31,637 a year, according to NLIHC’s “Out of Reach: 2003.”

“Out of Reach” calculates the Housing Wage for every state, region and county in the U.S. and reports that in no community, city, county or state is housing affordable to low-wage workers. Other findings include:

Families with extremely low incomes (those at 30 percent or below the area’s median income) continue to face the most severe affordability problems. There is not a single metropolitan area where an extremely low-income family can be assured of finding a modest two-bedroom rental home that is affordable. Those families with the most barriers to finding and keeping a modest rental home are those earning the minimum wage. According to the 2004 numbers, housing is out of reach in more counties across the country than ever before, even for a working family with two full-time minimum-wage workers. Renter households in more than 990 counties, home to almost 79 percent of all renter households in the nation, must have at least 80 hours a week of work at the local minimum wage to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the local fair market rent.

“‘Out of Reach’ shows both the depth and breadth of the housing shortage in our country. The gap between what people earn and what their housing costs is stark,” said Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “For the one-third of the nation paying too much for their homes, the consequences of ends that do not meet are all too real.”

According to “Out of Reach: 2004,” the least affordable states and their Housing Wages are:

1. California, $21.24

2. Massachusetts, $20.93

3. New Jersey, $20.35

4. Maryland, $18.25

5. New York, $18.18

6. Connecticut, $17.90

7. Hawaii, $17.60

8. Alaska, $17.07

9. Nevada, $16.92

10. New Hampshire, $16.79

The least affordable Metropolitan Statistical Areas and their Housing Wages are San Francisco, Calif., ($29.60 an hour), and Stamford-Norwalk, Conn., ($27.63 an hour).

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