MILTON — Santa Rosa County is caught in a nationwide high cost-of-housing trend and students are suffering for it.

The so-called housing wage in the county is $17.25 per hour. The fair market monthly rent in the county is $897, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Out of Reach 2017 report.

“NLIHC’s annual report, Out of Reach, documents the gap between renters’ wages and the cost of rental housing,” the 2017 report says. The housing wage is the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford what the NLIHC considers a modest and safe rental home without spending more than 30 percent of income on housing costs. The housing wage is based on the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fair market rent, which is an estimate of what a family can expect to pay for a modest rental home.

“It’s cause and effect,” Santa Rosa County School District Director of Federal Programs Karen Barber said. “(If) a modest, two-bedroom apartment (has a) required income of $35,000 and you have limited access to post-secondary education and high-paying jobs, the effect is a large number of families must double up to make ends meet.”

The Florida Department of Education reported in 2016 that 1,567 students lived in shared housing situations.

It’s stressful for students in a home with multiple families in a small space.

“You don’t have enough base for a family to function,” Barber said, “without enough beds for everyone to sleep in…for kids to do homework.”

The FDOE also reported 33 students living in shelters, 36 in motels, and 14 in some other housing like a campground, car, abandoned building or other substandard housing as of its 2014-15 school year homeless record count.

These overcrowded living situations may hinder students completing homework. Children sharing space may have inadequate room to work or lack access to school supplies. Parents in these situations may not be able to be as involved in their children’s homework or school activities, according to a 2012 Urban Institute report, “Housing as a Platform for Improving Education Outcomes among Low-Income Children.”

The Out of Reach report also notes how many minimum wage jobs are necessary per household to afford the two-bedroom, fair market apartment. Currently, the Santa Rosa County number is 2.1 jobs.

“How about the single parent?” Barber asked. “Will they work 2.1 full-time jobs and still find time to be an effective parent and be involved with that child’s school? It sets them up for failure here.”

Past Out of Reach reports showed an upward trend in the Santa Rosa County housing wage since 2012. From 2010 to 2012, the housing wage dropped from $15.37 an hour to $14.38. However, since then, the housing wage rose nearly $3 per hour as the cost for a two-bedroom, fair market rental rose from $748 in 2012 to $897 today.

Barber looks to public transportation for possible solutions, a topic her nonprofit group Bridges Out Of Poverty has championed since 2014. Bridges offers educational resources to those in need. It unites people from all sectors and economic classes to improve job retention rates, build resources, improve outcomes and support those who are moving out of poverty, according to Barber.

“This is why people say you have to work two jobs to get by,” Barber said. “It speaks to me if our goal is for a community that is robust and has a good quality of life, then we need to remove those barriers so people can earn better-paying jobs than minimum wage … You can see from the chart. It supports need for public transit for better-paying jobs and post-secondary education.

"This is really the 'why' of why we need public transit.”