Vermont Has a Rental Problem, and It's Not Alone (and It's Not About Rent)

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- There are more than 107 million U.S. adults renting houses or apartments, according to the Rental Protection Agency (and more than 22 million landlords, by the way.) In addition, there are 2,654 new renters everyday.

One state renters new and old may want to avoid is Vermont. It's of the most serene and scenic in the nation, but only 29% of Vermonters bother to rent there (compared with 47% in New York and 43% in California). It's no wonder why: The price of renting an apartment is a pocketbook killer there.

This is not to pick on Vermont -- it just has the freshest statistics on income and rental affordability. But the Vermont story points to a larger issue for consumers and the economy: It's getting much harder to afford a home or apartment rental.

Here's a look at the problem, using Vermont as an example.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Low Income Housing Coalition, Vermont renters need to earn about $18 an hour, or $38,541 in annual income, to "afford a basic apartment."

That's a problem, given the median per capita income in Vermont was $28,089, according to state figures.

"Vermont has been and still is one of the states with the least affordable rental housing," says Ted Wimpey, director of the Fair Housing Project at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. "It is extremely difficult now for even moderate-income people in Vermont to find affordable rental housing, and the situation has many serious consequences, including increased homelessness and suppressed economic development."

The NLIHC says a typical family with two wage earners would have to work a combined 86 hours per week at $8.60 an hour just to afford a basic two-bedroom apartment, which the group says is the "fair market value" for two-bedroom digs in the Green Mountain State.

A single renter needs to earn, on average, more than $18 an hour to rent the same modest two-bedroom apartment. But the average wage-earning renter in Vermont earns only about $11.60 an hour, the report says.

That doesn't include food, clothing, medical care, transportation and medical care, among other typical consumer financial obligations.

The NLIHC says it's not about singling out Vermont, although the state is the ninth-most expensive state in the union to live in, according to CNBC, trailing New York, California, Rhode Island, Maryland, Connecticut and Hawaii, among others. It's also the ninth-most expensive state in the union without major metropolitan areas to rent a home or an apartment.

The way out, the group says, is to readjust how its federal housing dollars are allocated.

"The federal government has used the tax code to make homeownership easier," says Sheila Crowley, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. "In reality, though, the benefits are largely going to higher-income people with million-dollar homes. It's time to make housing policy work better for middle- and lower-income people by reforming mortgage interest tax breaks and directing the savings to the National Housing Trust Fund to build and preserve homes affordable to the lowest-income Americans."

For now, the NLIHC says that about two-thirds of Vermonters can't afford a decent two-bedroom apartment rental.

That situation isn't expected to end any time soon, likely leading some Vermonters to wonder what life is like in New Hampshire these days.