Rents High and the Living Isn’t Easy

Ideas and Issues
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February 2, 2021

            New Orleans     You might think that something called “hire a helper” would be a sketchy source for vital information about the national housing market and affordability, but when they pull the data directly from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, that’s pretty much gold standard. I can’t help but share their work, because the numbers, “just the facts, ma’am,” make it clear that in a lot of cities, the rents are high and the living isn’t easy, especially in the South.

It’s been widely reported that 20 million households spend more than 30% of their income on rent. Conservatively speaking, that’s at least 1 in 5 people in the US. The state where rent takes the biggest bite out of total income is Louisiana at 35.6% and the least is North Dakota at 24.7%, although I would be surprised if people were packing up their bags to head to the badlands.         Louisiana isn’t alone over 30% and is joined by Rhode Island, Florida, and California. The Midwest and Mountain states are the only regions where rent and utilities is commonly more affordable.

They offer a sad “factoid,” which is almost a commentary on our times and the work undone for centuries, nothing that…

Various “majority-minority” cities—those in which minority groups comprise at least 50% of the population—dominate the list of unaffordable cities for renters. In majority-minority cities included in this analysis, an average of 34% of renter income goes toward housing costs. Extreme cases include Miami Gardens, FL (97% minority population) and Springfield, MA (68% minority population), whose renters typically spend more than half of their income on housing.

Springfield isn’t often in the news. I began my journey as a full-time organizer there, and was sorry to see them highlighted.

That paled when I saw the rankings for large cities, where New Orleans leads that list. It was hard to ignore the bullet points:

  • Median share of income spent on rent & utilities:1%
  • Median monthly gross rent: $1,010
  • Median monthly household income for renters: $2,292
  • Median annual household income for renters: $27,505
  • Minority population:4%

We weren’t alone over 40%, Miami was right below us, but that was small comfort. The next eight, all with majority-minority populations were Baltimore, Fresno, Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles, Memphis, Philadelphia, and Anaheim, California in Orange County. If you are packing your bags, the cities where the ratio from rent to income is the lowest begin at the top with San Francisco, then Virginia Beach, Columbus, Omaha, Wichita, Seattle, Oklahoma City, Austin, Minneapolis, and Kansas City, Missouri. You’re scratching your heads at San Fran and Seattle on that list, but that’s largely because pay is as wildly high as rent. Capitalism, what a system!

Talk to me about how economic development in large majority-minority cities can work, when people can hardly afford housing, much less the rest of the package on minimal wages?