When the waiter clears our table at a fine restaurant and takes the plates to the kitchen, do we think about the home of the person who washes dishes? Affordable rent on the average annual wages in the arts/food service/entertainment/hospitality sector is $387 a month.

Since that is far below market rent, the worker likely pays half of his or her income, often for an overcrowded or substandard place to live. His or her family probably moves often — before or after the eviction papers are filed — because paychecks vary with the work schedule or because the worker hopes a different place will have fewer cockroaches. Children change schools multiple times during the academic year and miss class after midnight rushes to the hospital with asthma attacks triggered by the roaches or mold.

More than 26,000 tenants — about one-fourth of Greensboro households — pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities, leaving so little they can’t afford food, transportation to work, medicines, child care and other necessities. With the enormous gap between the large number of families with very low wages and the shrinking supply of safe, affordable housing units, rental owners have few resources and almost no incentive for maintenance, because someone is always desperate to rent even the worst places.

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by Beth McKee-Huger