When it comes to the Broadway musical-turned-silver screen version of 'Rent', art isn't imitating life. Low-wage earners don't sing and dance their way from one rental payment to the next.
They spend most of their time dealing with the day-to-day blues of unaffordable housing.
For the first time in the eight years the National Low Income Housing Council has produced its annual "Out Of Reach" rental housing cost report, not a single county in the nation yielded an affordable one-bedroom apartment for a full-time worker earning minimum wage.
While the owner-occupied housing market has enjoyed one of the greatest pricing booms in history, the rental market has suffered falling and flat rents and occupancy levels, but the downturn did little to make it easier for low-income workers to afford shelter.
Now, as escalating housing costs give landlords the impetus to raise rents, minimum-wage earners are about to feel an even sharper pinch. Dire "Out of Reach 2005" findings loom especially large for those forced from their homes by Gulf Coast storms earlier this year.
With the Federal Emergency Management Agency's hotel and motel housing subsidy program likely extended for the last time and due to end in weeks, those displaced by hurricanes face another storm warning in their search for affordable rental housing.
"The disparity between what people earn and what even modest rental housing costs grows larger each year," said Sheila Crowley, president of NLIHC.
"This is the housing market in which millions of low wage workers and elderly or disabled people must try to find safe and decent homes. Now tens of thousands of displaced people from the Gulf Coast have joined them in this competition for scarce housing that they can afford. And FEMA wonders why evacuees are still in hotels," she added in a prepared statement.
Based on allocating 30 percent of wages for housing and on the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, where it's been since 1997, NLIHC calculated the national hourly housing wage (NHW) someone must earn, working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, to be able to afford rent and utilities in the private local housing market in every state, metropolitan area and county in the nation.
In 2005 the housing wage is $15.78 an hour, up from $15.37 an hour and more than three times the federal minimum wage.
"Grim," is how the report described the effect of the housing-related fuel and utilities cost increase of more than 13 percent in the past year, which is responsible for much of the increase in rent costs.
The report also found that, on the average nationwide, a family with two full-time workers earning federal minimum wage would make just $21,424, but need $32,822 a year to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.
Also, 81 percent of American renting households are in counties where a two-bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent (FMR) is not affordable for a family with two full time minimum-wage earners. The FMR is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's estimate of what a household seeking a modest rental unit can expect to pay in the local private market for rent and utilities.
The survey also found that 90 percent of renter households live in counties where the average renter wage (what renters actually earn) -- $12.22 nationally -- isn't enough to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment at the FMR.
Much like expensive owner-occupied housing, the most expensive states for renters are clustered in the West and Northeast with Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Alaska topping the list.
San Francisco is the nation's most expensive metropolitan area for renters, followed by Stamford-Norwalk, CT; Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA; Orange County, CA; Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA; Oakland-Fremont, CA; Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA; Westchester County, NY; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA; and Easton-Raynham, MA.