The Columbus metropolitan area ranks as the third most expensive region in Indiana regarding the cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment, a new study has found.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy organization, looked at the gap between renters’ income and the cost of rental housing across the country based on fair market values by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Its report, 2017 Out of Reach: The High Cost of Living report, was released earlier this month.

Renters need to earn at least $16.46 an hour, or $658 for a 40-hour week before taxes, in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Columbus, the report found. Fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Columbus is $856 a month, it said.

The city of Columbus conducted is own housing study in 2014, which found gaps at high and low ends of the cost scale, but especially in affordable housing.

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While Columbus continues to face a demand for low-income housing, income for many individuals has not kept pace, said Deborah Holt, executive director of the Columbus Housing Authority. The authority owns three public housing complexes for income-eligible individuals. Adding in scattered single-family sites around the city, the housing authority manages 157 rental units.

“Wages need to come up with the cost of living … and our tenants may not have the skills that some local companies require,” Holt said.

The national housing coalition noted that U.S. housing costs are out of reach for average renters and millions of low-income workers, seniors and individuals who have disabilities and are living on fixed incomes.

Only the Indiana metropolitan areas of Bloomington and Gary are more expensive than Columbus, although Indiana as a state ranked 40th in the nation, the study found.

The local housing authority has a waiting list of 800 people seeking low-income housing, said Holt, who has been in her position for 18 years.

“It’s not unusual to have 700 to 800 families on the waiting list,” Holt said.

Placing individuals in Columbus Housing Authority units typically takes a year, but can take as long as 18 to 24 months, she said.

Statewide, someone would need to earn $15.17 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment based on fair-market rent of $789, the study found.

The housing wage within the report is the amount an individual must earn to afford a modest and safe rental home without spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, the report said.

The gap between wages and housing costs has also drawn the attention of Prosperity Indiana, a group representing organizations that support community economic development across the state.

“Housing markets vary across Indiana based on local conditions. In all local markets, wages are not keeping pace with housing costs, and those earning the least are struggling the most,” said Andy Frazier, executive director with Prosperity Indiana. “The Out of Reach report illuminates this problem in every county with easily understood data.”

Columbus resident Barbara Abner knows what waiting for affordable housing feels like. The resident of Sycamore Place — designated for elderly, near elderly and disabled individuals — said she waited two years before her apartment application was approved.

She has lived in the Sycamore Street complex for seven years.

Sycamore Place is one of three apartment complexes in Columbus owned by the Columbus Housing Authority, with the other two being Heritage Woods and Pence Place. The agency also owns houses located throughout Columbus that are available to rent to low-income individuals who qualify, according to the organization’s website.

“As far as rent, this is one of the cheapest places you can find,” Abner said of Sycamore Place.

Abner said she pays $218 a month for her apartment and receives a $71 allowance for electric, water and sewer use each month. Her neighbor, Rolla Greene, has lived in the complex since 2009 and also had to wait two years before his application was approved.

Both individuals said other apartments available in Columbus are too expensive, even if they are designated as affordable housing, priced at $400 to $500 a month.

“If you’re on a fixed income like we are, you can’t afford it,” Abner said.

In Indiana, a person would need to work 67 hours a week at minimum wage to afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent of $628, while that would rise to 84 hours a week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at $789, according to the report by the national study.

Abner said there isn’t enough affordable housing in Columbus.

Holt, the local housing director, said she expects the demand for affordable housing in Columbus to continue.

“I don’t think it will slow down anytime soon,” Holt said. “We seem to be filling them up. We don’t have any trouble with vacancies whatsoever.”

But developers such as Herman & Kittle Properties Inc., based in Indianapolis, have already taken steps to bring more housing to the Columbus area. The firm is building a complex known as Ashford Park Apartments on the former Golden Castings Foundry site that will add more than 200 apartments starting next year.

Demand for housing in the Columbus market led the company to pursue the project currently under construction on 10th Street, said Erika Scott, vice president of development with Herman & Kittle Properties Inc.

The development will be the second apartment community within Columbus for the firm, which also oversees Canterbury House Apartments.

The upcoming project, which will have 209 units, will have 60 percent of them designated as affordable and the remaining ones available at market rate, Scott said.

“At this point, we are expecting first units available in February 2018 and to be complete in August 2018,” Scott said.

About the report

The report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy organization, details the gap between renters’ wages and the cost of rental housing. Information can be found for all 50 states.

More information at NLIHC website: http://nlihc.org/oor.

Indiana statistics

State facts:

Minimum wage: $7.25

Average renter wage: $12.97

Two-bedroom housing wage: $15.17

Number of renter households: 775,599

Percent of renters: 31

Most expensive areas:

Bloomington (Housing wage: $17)

Gary (Housing wage: $16.62)

Columbus (Housing wage: $16.46)

Indianapolis-Carmel (Housing wage: $16.35)

Lafayette-West Lafayette (Housing wage: $15.90)

Source: Out of Reach 2017 report by the National Income Housing Coalition

Rental housing affordability in Indiana

Fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Indiana is $789. Here’s what it would take to afford such a unit.

84: Number of hours per week at minimum wage to afford a two-bedroom rental home at fair market rent

67: Number of hours per week at minimum wage to afford a one-bedroom rental home at fair market rent

2.1: Number of full-time jobs at minimum wage to afford a two-bedroom rental home at fair market rent

1.7: Number of full-time jobs at minimum wage to afford a one-bedroom rental home at fair market rent

Source: Out of Reach 2017 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com