a growing number of renters across the country,
Christene James of Jackson, Miss., is near the end of
her rope. Her part-time job as a gas station cashier no
longer covers expenses since her fiancťís layoff at a
water meter technology supplier.
pay is so low at most places, the rent becomes
unaffordable," she said. "After gas, food and
necessities for our 2-year-old daughter, we are back to
zero, which makes us apt to take out small payday loans
which push us further back."
across the country are struggling to pay their rents. In
many cases, itís because rents are climbing faster
than rentersí incomes.
Stateline analysis of Census Bureau data shows that in
27 states, the median or typical renter is now spending
more than 30 percent of income on rent, a situation
considered "burdensome" by federal standards.
Thatís a sea change from 2000, when no states were in
that position. Federal guidelines say families paying
more than 30 percent of income may have difficulty
paying for food, clothing and other necessities.
numbers of renters who pay too much of their income for
rent can cause economic problems for an entire
community, according to a Center for Housing Policy
study this year. "Spending a disproportionate share
of income on housing stifles economic growth as these
households restrict their spending," the study
situation has left some areas and states to create their
own programs to help renters. A review this year by the
Technical Assistance Collaborative found 52 state-funded
subsidy programs in 30 states, ranging from North Dakotaís
total $42,000 spending on rental gap assistance to
Massachusettsí $83 million HomeBASE program.
of the programs are focused on homelessness prevention,
and many target specific populations like the disabled
or the elderly.
had one of the most jarring drops in rental
affordability statewide since 2000, as median rents rose
61 percent from $439 to $708 a month, while rentersí
income increased by only about 19 percent.
Hinds County, Mississippi, where Jackson is located, the
typical amount renters paid for rent has shot up from
27percent of income, considered affordable, to 36
many of the hardest-hit areas are in low-income areas
like Jackson and Paterson, N.J., even wealthy and
booming areas have experienced the same problem. All of
the 269 counties in the U.S. with more than 30,000
rental households saw rental affordability decline since
in Arlington County, Va., for example, where renter
income is high and growing fast, rents are increasing
even faster. The countyís proximity to Washington,
D.C. has drawn millennials and empty-nesters looking for
car-free commutes, pushing out working-class families
who also rely on public transportation.
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county has lost almost half its affordable apartments,
or about 16,000 units, to gentrification or condo
conversion, said Nina Janopaul, president of the
nonprofit Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.
Young and middle-aged professionals have moved out of
the far suburbs and into nearby spots, displacing people
of more modest means, she said.
now cool if youíre 25 years old to live in an
apartment within walking distance of a bus stop or Metro
station," Janopaul said. "Empty-nesters are
also selling their homes in the suburbs and buying
condos in Arlington. This resurgence in urban living is
creating more demand for everyone."
Harvard study last year found that renters have been
losing ground to inflation since 2000, as rentersí
paychecks lost ground, while rents kept soaring.
erosion in renter incomes over the past decade has
pushed the number of households paying excessive shares
of income for housing to record levels," the study
said. "Assistance efforts have failed to keep pace
with this escalating need, undermining the nationís
longstanding goal of ensuring decent and affordable
housing for all."
of near suburbs like Arlington can drive working
families to outer suburbs in search of affordable
housing. "Those individuals have had a huge
exodus," said Janopaul. "They move to the
outer suburbs where they have these huge transportation
costs to add to the cost of living."
outer suburb of Rockland County, N.Y., 30 miles from
Manhattan, is seeing a growing number of low-wage
workers who canít afford the areaís traditional
one-family housing. "Thereís an epidemic of
one-family houses being converted to rooming
houses," said Gordon Wren, the countyís fire and
emergency services director.
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find a lot with 10 rooms, and two to five people in each
room," he said. "Working these low-paying
jobs, how else can they afford to live here?"
Levy, director of the Rockland Housing Action Coalition,
said the large numbers of unskilled immigrants coming to
the country need affordable multi-family housing, which
is largely unavailable.
character and flavor of the area has always been
basically one-family housing," Levy said,
"Couple that with high rents because of high
operating costs and high taxes, and itís a problem for
the lower-wage earners."
federal Section 8 housing program was meant to help
subsidize needy renters, but in most areas, including
Rockland, Arlington and Jackson, waiting lists can be
years-long and are closed to new cases. The Harvard
study found that while renters eligible for Section 8
mushroomed from 16 million to 19 million after the
recession, only about 200,000 new cases were added.
the meantime, Arlington County in Virginia is studying
housing needs to see what more can be done with the $7.8
million it spends to serve 1,200 low-income families.
"When the gap between what they can pay and the
rent keeps widening, it puts a big strain on the housing
grants." said Kurt Larrick, a spokesman for the
Jersey, which has two of the most impacted areas in
Passaic County and Union County, home of Paterson and
Elizabeth, also has a State Rental Assistance Program.
During the last two fiscal years, the state-funded
program spent about $40.5 million to help more than
4,000 low-income households with rent.
continue to expand as people of all ages opt out of the
housing market, an updated Harvard study noted this
year, and the increased demand keeps pushing up rents.
Apartment rentals are profitable and more are being
built, but that probably wonít help those at the
bottom of the income scale.
built apartments tend to be aimed at the new
middle-class renters who have opted to wait out the
construction typically adds units at the upper end, well
out of reach for households with limited incomes,"
the study said.