Big shortage of affordable rentals in Pierce County

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TACOMA -- It is easier to buy a home in Pierce County than King County because of lower prices and inventory.

But housing experts in Pierce County say there is a huge shortage of affordable rentals for the lowest paid workers.

A recent study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows just how much it would cost to for a person earning minimum wage to rent a place in Washington state.

The average monthly price for a two bedroom unit is about $1,200.

With the minimum wage at $9.47 an hour, one person would have to work 98 hours a week to earn enough to cover the monthly bill.

In Seattle, that number jumps to 124 hours per week.

That's why many people are choosing to move to Pierce County.

“Trying not to get into welfare so what I do is work two jobs,” Tacoma mom Ana Perez said.

Perez, who works as a cashier, says a back injury forced her to take some time off.

“I got evicted because I couldn’t afford the rent anymore,” Perez said.

So now Ana and her kids are staying with relatives until she can get back to work.

“We are struggling right now it’s a big struggle,” Perez said.

Tacoma Pierce Affordable Housing Consortium says the housing situation in Pierce County is no longer a struggle but a crisis.

“There are a lot of people living in their cars. Can you imagine being a child and doing your homework in the car?" asked Connie Brown, executive director of the Tacoma Pierce County Affordable Housing Consortium.

Brown says with skyrocketing rentals in King County, there is a misconception among low-wage workers that Pierce County is the answer.

“Moving to Pierce County is not the answer, we have the least amount of affordable housing in the state,” Brown said.

Brown says for every 100 homes, only 10 of them are affordable for people making minimum wage. In order not to pay more than 30% of your income to housing in Pierce County, a household would need to earn $21.65 ,an hour to afford a two-bedroom unit in Pierce County.

“It’s like throwing a rock to a drowning person,” Brown said.

Brown says a small property tax increase is the answer.

“Might amount to $20 to $100 a year,” Brown said.

“No, no taxes no,” said one Tacoma homeowner.

Many homeowners say they are already struggling to pay the property taxes they have now.

Brown says without more affordable housing, we could see the homeless rate go up even more.

“We are absolutely in a crisis,” Brown said.

That is something Perez knows firsthand.

“Everyone has their own struggle; you just try to resolve it the best they can,” Perez said.

Perez is determined to get back on her feet quickly and, according to the new report, she has to make about $45,000 a year to afford a two-bedroom unit in Pierce County.