Rethinking 30 percent

Is the standard measure used by many (including housing assistance programs) to calculate housing affordability all wrong? Examining recent data, Washington City Paper takes a look at the problematic ways we determine what “affordable” really means. (WCP, 3/31)

Let’s take two hypothetical people, Bernardo and Bernadette. Bernardo makes $2 million a year and spends half of it, or $1 million, on housing. Bernadette makes $20,000 a year and spends just a quarter of it, or $5,000, on housing. According to the golden rule of affordability, Bernardo’s housing is unaffordable, and Bernadette’s is affordable. But of course that’s ridiculous: Bernardo has $1 million left over to spend on other things, while Bernadette has just $15,000. Bernardo will have no trouble getting by in the District with that disposable income, while Bernadette will struggle mightily, particularly if she has kids. (For simplicity’s sake, I’m not factoring in taxes here; even though they’ll take a bigger chunk out of Bernardo’s paycheck, he’ll still be just fine.)


There’s another problem with the 30 percent threshold: Most D.C. households don’t meet it. […] According to a recent study, 51 percent of D.C. renters pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent. For some households, that’s fine: A single person with a high income and no car or kids to worry about can pay half his income in rent without a problem. For others, it’s not: A mother of three kids can hardly afford to put most of her meager salary toward rent. The trouble is that things tend to skew the other way. Among very low-income households, 84 percent pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent, while just 4 percent of high earners do. That’s problematic for a host of reasons, but it doesn’t change the fact that the 30 percent limit has simply become unrealistic for the majority of households in a high-cost city like D.C.

AGING | A new study from AARP found that among adults between the ages of 45 and 70 that were surveyed, nearly half of those who had lost their job in the last five years and found a new one were making less than they previously had been. Most also found themselves working fewer hours, as securing full time work became more difficult. More highlights from the study can be found here. (WBJ, 3/31 and AARP blog, 3/30)

CSR/COMMUNITY | Opinion: In this op-ed, Robert Musselwhite of the Advisory Board Company, discusses the great positive impact that can come about when business interests and a desire for social change combine. (WaPo, 3/27)

– In a different type of March Madness, Mayor Muriel Bowser convened contractors and developers to drum up interest in several projects across the District aimed at growing affordable housing, the tech sector, and job training in the city. (WCP, 3/30)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser preparing first citywide address (WaPo, 3/31)

EDUCATION | After its Title IX legality was called into question, the plan to open an all-boys school for minority students as part of the “Empowering Males of Color” initiative was given a thumbs up by Attorney General Karl Racine. (WCP, 3/30)

REGION | Arlington and D.C. are top cities for graduates (WBJ, 3/30)

FOOD/YOUTH | According to a new study, the number of U.S. children eating fast food on any given day saw a decline from 39 percent in 2003, to 33 percent in 2010. (Reuters, 3/30)

Take this quiz about neighborhoods near Metro stations and see if you can do better than my 2 out of 8!

– Ciara