A widely accepted standard for gauging the cost of housing is to calculate how much of your income you spend on housing. If you’re spending less than 30% of your income on housing, you’re in pretty good shape. If you’re spending over 30%, you qualify as ‘cost-burdened’. It turns out that Manhattan, KS is home to the most cost-burdened renters and owners in the state of Kansas.

Over 52% of Manhattan renters pay >30% of their income on housing, making them the most cost-burdened renters in the state of Kansas (KS avg = 45%; KC Metro avg = 44.1%; National avg = 49%)

For many others, however, it gets worse.

An additional 26% of Manhattan renters are ‘severely cost burdened’, paying >50% of their income on housing (KS avg = 7%; KC Metro avg = 21%; National avg = 26.5%)

These burdens are even more prevalent among low income populations, where 96% of renters, making less than $15K per year, pay >30% of their income for housing (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2016). It is no surprise, then, that according to the 2015 Manhattan Community Survey that only 36% of owners and 29% of renters are satisfied with the availability of affordable housing for sale or to rent, respectively.

Little Apple, Little Incomes

You’ll notice that the Riley county averages are not so different from the national averages. And surely, with K-State and a thriving business environment, people in Manhattan make more money than the rest of the state, right?

Wrong. In fact, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings the average median income for Riley county is $46,500 (margin of error = $42,000-$50,900), which is significantly below the KS average ($52,400). It’s even lower for renters, at $37,400.

Minimum wage in KS is $7.25 an hour. A Manhattan resident wanting to buy a 2BR home would need to make at least $14.92 an hour (40hr wk), or 2.1 fulltime, minimum wage jobs to own a house. If you want to rent, you need 1.5 full-time, minimum wage jobs. In other words, Riley county residents pay the MOST of any county in the state of Kansas, while earning less than the average county (101 counties, total).

High cost is not high quality

In the most recent and comprehensive study, to date, the Flint Hills Fair Housing Equity Assessment and Regional Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing project, found the cost of housing to be much greater than any median income family can afford- especially in rapidly growing markets (i.e., Manhattan). Paying more for housing, however, did not translate into better quality housing. In fact, the low vacancy rates (i.e., high demand/low supply), along with the lack of code enforcement, allows landlords to provide disturbingly low-quality housing at a high cost. In other words, the cost of housing does not reflect quality and there is currently no incentive for landlords to change that.

Take action

The root of the problem is complex and goes beyond simple supply and demand economics. Effective solutions will require engagement and collaboration among a wide range of community partners and stakeholders and advocacy from the community. If you would like to be part of the solution, join the Making Change effort in Manhattan and the Affordable Housing Community Action Group by following the link below and requesting membership.

More at: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/mhkaffordable- housing-community-action-group

Originally published in the MAPJ NEWSLETTER JANUARY 2017 p. 9.

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