I sat in a meeting recently with a group of leaders from Wayzata Community Church who are assessing their community’s affordable housing needs. We heard real stories from Wendy, a director at Interfaith Outreach Community Partners which serves suburban Hennepin County families and individuals in financial need. The examples we heard of clients struggling to make ends meet in Plymouth, Wayzata, Orono and Long Lake were surprising and heart-wrenching. These anecdotes revealed what many experts have been saying lately: that poverty is real everywhere, and growing in the suburbs.
Most people who walk into IOCP’s offices in Plymouth are employed but are financially struggling to maintain their housing and put food on the table because they have “peaked” in terms of their earning potential based on their level of education. Most of their clients pay more than 50 percent of their income in rent each month. The average 3-bedroom apartment in western Hennepin County is out of their reach- even with 2 income earners in a household. Without retraining for a new career that pays higher wages, families are forced to make hard decisions. New football equipment for your high-schooler this fall or groceries for a month? Fix the radiator on the car or buy gifts for the holidays?
For families, minimum wages simply don’t work. McDonald’s recently released a sample budget for its employees in an attempt to help them create a household budget based on their company’s average wage of $8.25 an hour. What it actually demonstrates is how it’s mathematically impossible to live off of full-time minimum wage work in 2013. Their budget template assumes that McDonald’s employees work full time and have a second job, pay only $20 a month in health insurance and health-related costs, have housing that costs $600 in rent a month (which doesn’t include heating costs) and do not have any childcare expenses.
Lots of families are able to get by with the basics, but our current economic system expects them to be miracle workers. When over half of a household’s income goes toward a roof over their head, there is little margin for error or emergency. Rental housing at rates that households can truly afford will provide one less obstacle on the path to family and housing stability for many in the West Metro.