Rents are Sucking Up Family Income


New Orleans       All around the world, in one country after another, there seems to be a common refrain:  rents are too damned high!  There’s no question that rents have been increasing at a phenomenal pace in recent years.  The dearth of new construction of affordable housing and the wholesale abandonment of governmental responsibility in too many countries to build and provide public housing, has given landlords of all varieties the whip hand over tenants, and it’s hurting.

In the United States, the percentages of families, both lower income and lower-waged, that are paying more than half of their income has soared.  As reported recently by the veteran poverty reporter for the New York Times, Jason DeParle,

            Unaffordable rents are changing low-income life, blighting the prospects of not only the poor but also growing shares of the lower middle class after decades in which rent increases have outpaced income growth. Nearly two-thirds of households in the bottom 20 percent of incomes face “severe cost burdens,” meaning they pay more than half of their income for rent and utilities, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. Among working-class renters — the 20 percent of people in the next level up the income scale — the share with severe burdens has nearly tripled in two decades to 17 percent. For both groups, the proportion with severe cost burdens has reached record highs.

DeParle tells the stories of several families, but the numbers they give face to are tragic:

  • Public housing, Section 8 and housing choice vouchers – have fallen by 6%…while the number eligible has soared.
  • In 1960, shelter took 28% of a renter’s income on average…Now it takes 41% of income – and for poor renters, 75%.
  • The share of low-income households with severe rent burdens ranges from 73% in big cities to 50% in rural areas.
  • Even when factoring in food stamps and tax credits, half the low-income population still has severe rent burdens.
  • Housing burdens are a consequence of poverty, but also a cause. Research has shown that high rent burdens can harm cognitive development, increase delinquent behavior and reduce spending on health care and food, while evictions worsen mental and physical health and force families intro worse neighborhoods.

Is the picture clearer now?  It’s ugly and it’s tragic.

This is no ghetto problem.  It’s ubiquitous.  North Charlston, South Carolina led the entire country with the highest eviction rate.  It’s also in the suburbs, thanks to Wall Street financialization of housing, as impacted one formerly middle-class family:

            Among the forces that may be raising rents nationwide is the emergence of large corporate landlords. AMH, a public company with 60,000 homes that asked a court to put her out. Most tenants in housing court lack attorneys, but a pro bono lawyer negotiated a deal to let her move without an eviction on her record. Yet her next rental was even more expensive and owned by Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity giant, through its property company, FirstKey Homes.

Many have no idea how bad these companies are, only following how much money they are making without looking at their impact on communities.

With no coherent and financed national housing policy for lower income and working families, what is happening across the country now is only going to get worse.