High rents: housing’s big challenge


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The foreclosure crisis is beginning to fade from the headlines, but another dilemma has quietly grown.

“We are in an affordable rental crisis,” says Brian Sullivan, spokesperson for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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Median rent nationwide is $1,381 a month, according to Zillow. The real estate data firm expects growth in U.S. rents to level off from a 3.3 percent annual pace in December 2015 to a 1.1 percent rate nationwide by the end of 2016.

The easing is not likely to be of much help to renters. They endured a 7 percent increase in inflation-adjusted rent from 2001 to 2014 as household incomes fell nine percent, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

By 2015, the number of “cost-burdened,” those who pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent, reached a new high of 21.3 million households. Those paying more than half of their income rose to a record 11.4 million.

Federal, state and local government programs to subsidize rent charges for households with lower incomes below are strained.

Only about one-quarter of qualifying households receive assistance from the largest source of aid, the federal government, says Emily Cadik, senior analyst for Enterprise Community Partners.

Public housing agencies are inundated with requests for help, with waiting lists that stretch for months or are closed, Cadik says.

Still, the only way to get help is to try, says Sullivan.

The Website hud.gov has a “Find rental assistance” link that’s a good place to start finding what affordable rental may be available in your area. Two big sources of federal help are through public housing or vouchers, whereby renters find housing themselves but have vouchers to help pay rent, says Cadik.

The hud.gov site also connects users to their local PHA.

Each state also has a housing finance agency, says Sullivan, and may administer local programs. Check if your local municipality has a housing department with a local rent help effort.
— Marilyn Kennedy Melia
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