Source: MaineHousing
Interactive: Christian MilNeil

W

hen it comes to housing, the term “affordable” has long been used as a euphemism for low-income or subsidized. But everyone, no matter their salary, has a limit to what they can reasonably afford in monthly housing costs.

That limit was defined by U.S. National Housing Act of 1937 as 30 percent of the gross household income, a definition that has survived as a universal standard. A household that spends more than 30 percent of its income on rent or mortgage payments is considered “cost-burdened.”

Communities have long been concerned about providing low-income housing, which is generally considered to be housing that is affordable to people making 80 percent of the area’s median income or less – or below $62,000 for a family of four in Portland. Government subsidies typically go to support that kind of housing development so that rents can be reduced to below market rate, which is the average asking price.

But as tax incentives spur subsidized housing projects and high rents provide the needed incentives for developers to build high-end housing, there’s been a dearth of new housing that’s affordable to the average resident.

As cities deal with this problem, a new term, “workforce housing,” has emerged. This is sometimes referred to as affordable housing, too, although it’s by no means affordable to low-income families.

Portland, for example, has adopted a new requirement that 10 percent of the housing units in any new developments with at least 10 units be affordable to middle-income earners – for example, a family of four earning 100 percent to 120 percent of the area’s median income, or $77,100 to $92,760 a year.

If they’re rental units, they must be affordable to a family earning 100 percent of the area’s median income or less – with utilities included, up to $1,928 a month for a family of four and $1,542 for a family of two, which is right around the market-rate price for a two-bedroom apartment in the city.

The median renter household in Portland earned about $31,000 in 2014, according to data provided by the Maine State Housing Authority. Rent would have to be less than $776 to be considered affordable to that household.

– Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers