How to Rent an Apartment on a Minimum Wage Income

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How to Rent an Apartment on a Minimum Wage Income

Staff Writer · Jun 2, 2010

If you’re earning a minimum wage income, it can be extremely difficult to rent an apartment without help. The price of rentals across the country are far too high for a single minimum wage earner to be able to afford a proper place to stay. However, there are some things that you can do in order to rent a place where you’re comfortable and feel at home, even on a smaller income.

Dealing with Logistics

The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour, which corresponds to an annual income of about $15,000 if you have full-time year-round employment. Yet the average fair market rate of a two-bedroom apartment is $928 per month, meaning you have to earn $17.84 an hour just to pay for housing.

That’s over $17/hr for nothing other than your apartment—while the minimum wage will only earn you $7.25/hr for all of your economic needs combined. Clearly, in order to afford an apartment, you must live in the right area.

The Best States for Minimum Wage Apartment Renting

By far, the best predictor of whether or not you will be able to afford housing at minimum wage is if you live in an area that has housing costs extremely below the national average. That means you’ll need to avoid areas like New York City. The cheapest state to rent in is West Virginia. Yet, unbelievably, even the cheapest rental state still has a housing cost of $9.31/hr to pay for a two-bedroom, plus more for other expenses like food and transportation. That’s nearly 30% more than the federal minimum wage. If you want to afford an apartment on minimum wage, you’ll have to look for the low-cost areas even within a poor state like West Virginia.

There are also other complications. The cost of living in a particular area is not just based on the cost of housing, but other factors such as taxes, gas, and groceries as well. When taking everything into account, it turns out that the cheapest state to live in is actually Oklahoma, followed closely by Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Nebraska, and North Dakota. It’s actually more important to avoid expensive areas than to specifically look for inexpensive ones, since the cheapest places to live are all about the same. Avoid Alaska, Hawaii, New England and the West Coast, and you should be fine when it comes to total cost of living.

Subsidized Housing

Of course, you may have noticed that even places with very high rental rates still have people that are somehow able to rent while earning minimum wage. That’s because subsidized housing is generally available in high cost areas.

Even the highest cost areas cannot function without workers that are willing to do the jobs others won’t for a low price. That’s why the city or state government will pay rent for those workers to live in the area. Generally, if you qualify for subsidized housing, you will be charged one third of your total income for housing, regardless of how much the housing actually costs. In many areas, it can be difficult to get into subsidized housing, even if you qualify—there is usually a waiting period of a number of months. To get into the program, search the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website at hud.gov for your local public housing agency’s contact information. They should be able to direct you from there.

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