Report: Travel, Tourism Workers Can't Afford Housing in Costly Metro Areas

Hotel, restaurant and travel industry employees often can't afford housing costs in travel destinations, a report finds. View rental and home prices for more than 200 metro areas.
by | August 16, 2013 AT 2:00 PM

Hotel, restaurant and travel industry employees kept busy this summer as Americans flocked to the nation’s top travel destinations. While this class of workers may be able to find jobs, many still struggle to afford the pricey housing costs that come with living in these expensive areas.

A new Center for Housing Policy (CHP) study examines housing affordability for travel and tourism workers, finding a stark mismatch in wages and housing costs.

Some metro areas offer an adequate supply of homes for low-income earners. But in tourism hot spots, particularly along the coasts, prices are too high, often resulting in workers spending a sizable chunk of their paycheck on housing.

The CHP report assessed hosing costs in 207 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas for housekeepers, wait staff, auto mechanics, front desk managers and flight attendants. Some of the key findings include:

  • A single housekeeper or wait staff employee cannot reasonably afford fair market rental costs for a two-bedroom unit in any metro area (fair market gross rents exceeded 30 percent of median income).
  • Of the five occupations studied, only flight attendants can afford a median-valued home (no more than 28 percent of income pays for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage and 10 percent down payment).
  • Monthly mortgage payments for a median-valued home were unaffordable for front desk managers and auto mechanics in 40 percent of areas examined.

The report singled out prohibitively expensive housing costs along most of the California coast, finding the San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Ana metro areas to be the nation’s costliest for home ownership.

In major metro areas on the east coast, above-average housing costs aren't much better.

“It really prices out a lot of households who work to support the local economy,” said Janet Viveiros, a CHP researcher who co-authored the report. “They either have to live further away or pay a higher portion of income on housing costs.”

However, depending on their living situation, workers aren't necessarily priced out of an area to the extent the CHP report depicts.

Some travel and tourism workers can afford housing less expensive than the fair market rents and median home price data used. The study also assumes only one worker per household.

Researchers used median annual cash compensation figures compiled by in calculating wages.

Most recently, home affordability improved in several metro areas across the U.S. between the first quarter of 2012 and earlier this year. But in other areas, such as Phoenix, Houston and Reno, median prices put homes out of reach for travel industry workers, according to the report.

And the price tag isn’t the only potential obstacle to owning a home. Viveiros pointed out some low-income earners may lack access to credit or cannot make down payments.

When workers can’t afford to purchase a home, their salary typically instead pays for high rent costs. For one wait staff employee in Honolulu, nearly 86 percent of income is required to rent a typical two-bedroom unit apartment, the study reported.

When hunting for apartments with prices that aren’t as steep, workers have the option of moving outside of urban areas. But even then, as the report notes, they’ll face a lengthy (and more costly) commute.

Housing Data

The following map shows metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas in green with median home prices exceeding $200,000 for the first quarter of this year, representing roughly the top 25 percent of those examined in the study. (Open interactive map in new window)

View additional data for each metro area on the National Housing Conference website.