A new report shows York County is slightly cheaper than surrounding areas, the state and the nation when it comes to renting costs.
But there's still a large disparity between those costs and renters' incomes, according to the annual "Out of Reach" report, released earlier this month by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.
The report shows renters' wages and housing costs by county, municipality and state.
It uses statistics from the U.S. Census and bases its conclusions on the federal standard that a household should spend at most 30 percent of its income on housing costs.
The details: Across the state, Pennsylvania households must earn almost $36,000 a year to afford a two-bedroom unit at the commonwealth's fair market rent of $895 per month - which is $60 higher than last year's report.
The average state renter makes about 75 percent of that at $27,726 a year. The report ranks the state's renting costs as the 19th most expensive in the nation.
York County's numbers are slightly better, with an $822 fair market rent requiring an income of almost $33,000 to pay that rent and not cross the 30-percent threshold. But York County renters only make about $24,232.
Last year's report said York County had a $795 fair market rent, which takes a household about $32,000 in income to afford - and the average renter only earned $23,088.
Concerns: Housing costs won't stay down for long, said Richard Fox, executive director of the York Housing Authority. The authority tries to provide affordable housing to qualified residents. He said York's rapid population growth will push up the cost of housing, and there are reasons why York County's numbers are so low.
"That reflects the local economies: There is more affordability, but there are more lower-income people living here also," he said.
And he fears the situation will get worse.
The authority owns and operates more than 1,000 public housing units and offers Section 8 rental assistance and management services to eligible residents. But those programs might soon be on the chopping block.
Fox said the programs could be cut by as much as 30 percent under federal sequestration.
"So far, sequestration is taking a meat cleaver to the patient rather than a scalpel," he said, calling the cuts "too broad, too deep and not carefully done."
He said the cuts are affecting more than just the programs.
"Many housing authorities, especially in Pennsylvania, are having to look at layoffs for people who provide services for elderly and challenged," he said, citing Allegheny County Housing Authority's recent layoff of 13 staff members.
But all hope is not lost, he said.
"There's still time here for Congress to get this corrected," he said. "There's the ability financially within Congress to even out these cuts with discretionary programs."
The impact: About 3,000 York families benefit from housing programs, said Liz Hersh, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.
She called budget cuts to the programs "perverse," saying that cutting assistance actually increases costs.
"For about $10,000 a year, you can provide an elderly widow with safety and dignity (through a rent subsidy)," she said. "Whereas a nursing home costs about $45,000 a year."
She added that shelters for the homeless are about 10 times more expensive than the cost of a rent subsidy.
The subsidy system is highly controlled, with a low incidence of fraud, she said.
But she said the sequestration problem is solvable.
"Nobody is looking for the federal government to solve every problem," she said. "We're looking for partnerships. We just want the folks in Washington to do their part."
- Reach Mollie Durkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.