The western suburbs are awash with jobs paying $15,000 or less a year, but housing for workers earning that minimum wage is in short supply, according to a report from the Polk County Housing Trust Fund.


Those suburbs -- Clive, Grimes, Johnston, Urbandale, West Des Moines and Windsor Heights -- would need to add 2,225 housing units at a monthly rent of $599 to meet the needs of their populations with household incomes of $25,000 a year. The rent figure would equal about 30 percent of the income level, which is considered by many to be an ideal percentage of income that goes toward housing.


However, the figure is misleading because a great majority of the extremely low-income residents of those six communities pay more than 50 percent of their income in rent.


"In five of the six western Polk County communities, there were more households making less than $25,000 annually than there were units for rent at $599 or less," according to the report, which was distributed during the organization's tour of affordable housing properties. Conducted three times a year, the fall tour focused on the western suburbs.


Windsor Heights was listed as the only community of the six that had enough "affordable" housing units to meet the needs of its current population of low-income residents.


Although the numbers represent a definite shortage of housing opportunities for low-income residents, they are less than half of the 4,858 units of affordable housing needed for Des Moines' low-income residents.


According to the report, a household of three to four people with a total annual income of $21,850 falls into the "extremely low-income renters" category.


The report said that low-income renters benefit financially by living close to their jobs. Many of extremely low-paying jobs appear to be centered near shopping centers in the western suburbs, yet more of those workers live in Des Moines and commute to work in the suburbs.

"I believe this report is one of the first times there has been a large scale attempt to compare low-wage job centers with affordable housing," said Eric Burmeister, executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund. "Obviously, we have many folks working retail and food service traveling a long way to get to work because they can’t afford to live nearby. This is one of the reasons for the recent DART expansion of night service." 
Click here to read the full report.