Over the course of ten years, Caitlyn Colbert, a single mother, saw the rent on her two-bedroom apartment in Denver go from $750 to $3,374 last year.
Like millions of Americans, Colbert balanced her expenses each month. Pay one of her three children’s swim team dues or rent. Rent or educational materials. groceries or rent? Colbert, a social worker who assists clients in balancing their finances, would frequently find herself evicted after 30 days if she failed to pay her rent and a late fee.
She added what quickly became a familiar refrain: “Well, this month at least we have $13 left.” “Every month you just gotta budget and then you still fall short,” she said.
Millions of Americans—particularly people of color—are forced to make the same difficult choices as never before due to record-high rent increases, an inflation-fueled crisis, a lack of affordable housing, and the end of epidemic assistance.
According to the most recent data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, which was published in January, half of all renters in the US, or a record 22.4 million renter households, spent more than 30% of their income on rent in 2022. In addition, there were 2.2 million fewer affordable flats with rents under $600 that year than there had been ten years prior.
A record number of persons becoming homeless and a sharp increase in eviction proceedings were caused by those reasons.
The amount of cost-burdened households in 2022 had not been seen since the Great Recession in 2008, when 10 million Americans lost their houses to foreclosure, according to Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, a senior research associate at the Harvard institute. “It’s one of the worst years we’ve ever seen,” she said.
State and federal lawmakers across the United States are making housing a priority in 2024 and throwing everything at the problem, including proposals to enact eviction protections, implement zoning reforms, cap annual rent increases, and allocate tens of billions of dollars toward building more housing, after failing to make a significant dent in the problem over the previous ten years.
According to Airgood-Obrycki, tenants making less than $30,000 have been the hardest hit, with an average monthly income of just $310 left over after utilities and rent are paid.
“So you can certainly imagine the kinds of tradeoffs that have to happen,” she continued. Renters who are burdened with expenses are spending less on groceries, medical care, and retirement. Therefore, there are important ramifications for these households’ long-term well-being.”
Colbert’s bathroom roof in Denver partially collapsed due to a leak last year, and the landlord postponed fixing it while the rent increased by $200 per month. Colbert moved in to live with relatives and is buying a house through Habitat for Humanity after it became too much for her. They provided her with a low-interest loan.
“It’s so disheartening, paying so much and not even seeing where your rent is going,” remarked Colbert. “It just hits you like, ‘This is for nothing.'”
The final holdout for cheap housing in Auburn, Massachusetts, has already been severely impacted by widespread rent increases.
At the American Mobile Home Park, which is next to a pond and just off an expressway, rent increases can reach forty percent. A large number of renters, primarily elderly and those on fixed incomes, have not signed new leases that include those increases. In a letter, Lawyers For Civil Rights has accused the landlord of raising rent in a “unconscionable manner” and neglecting to offer essential services such proper snow and garbage disposal.
Amy Case, 49, exclaimed, “How am I going to pay that?” as she considered how she would reconcile the $345 monthly rise with the $200 she must spend on prescription drugs and the expense of a twice-yearly MRI to check on her brain tumor.
An administrative assistant at a nearby college named Case remarked, “I don’t know what else to cut back on,” adding that she would only have $300 left over each month for other necessities. “Lower groceries, probably. I am unable to reduce the amount of medication I take.”
Ann Urbanovitch, a 72-year-old tenant who works as a department store cashier, is also facing an increase in rent.
“I thought it would increase by $100, but $345. She remarked, “I was shocked.” “I have to dip into my retirement savings … because, you know, times are tough.”
An Associated Press request for comment was not answered by the owner of the mobile home park, Parakeet Communities.
According to data from the Colorado Judicial Branch, over 50,000 evictions were filed last year, indicating that landlords in the state are increasingly resorting to evictions as a means of collecting unpaid rent from impoverished families.
“The year 2023 marked the peak of eviction filings in Colorado history,” stated Zach Neumann, co-CEO of the Community Economic Defense Project, an organization that provides financial and legal support to Coloradoans facing rent difficulties.
After losing a protracted eviction battle, Monique Gant, a mother of two boys, packed her belongings into boxes in a Denver suburb last week with the intention of temporarily relocating between her RV and extended-stay hotel rooms. Gant’s thinning hair is a result of the stress she hides from her kids behind a tough exterior.
“My kids, they assume that I am Super Woman,” stated Gant. nonetheless “when I go to take a shower, put some music on, I cry.”
Her sons, ages ten and eleven, aren’t participating in class as much as they used to, she claimed, and they’ve already gotten into fights at school and on the bus.
According to a study co-authored by Nick Graetz at Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, there are about 2.9 million children who face eviction annually. Graetz claimed that research demonstrates the wide-ranging effects of housing instability and eviction on children’s mental health and development.
“We can see that things really fall off for children that experience eviction,” said Graetz.
A plan that would broaden a federal program that gives tax credits to real estate developers who consent to reserve apartments for low-income tenants is being worked on by lawmakers in Congress. Advocates claim that might result in the building of 200,000 more reasonably priced homes. Legislators are also demanding greater rental assistance, including a large boost in the amount of money allocated to housing vouchers.
“The federal government needs to make a bigger commitment,” the Harvard Center’s managing director, Chris Herbert, stated. “Only then will the nation finally make a meaningful dent in the housing affordability crisis making life so difficult for millions of people.”
Legislators in Colorado have put out a bill to restrict the grounds on which a landlord may remove a tenant at the state level. Other bills would repeal local laws that forbade homeowners from renting out a separate unit on their land and do away with the filing cost for renters in an eviction case.
In his state of the state address last month, Colorado Governor Jared Polis mostly addressed housing, saying, “We will soon face a spiraling point of no return if we don’t act now.”
The urgency is felt in other states too.
A bill in the state of Washington would mandate that 10% of newly constructed housing in the vicinity of transit hubs be affordable for low-income citizens. Another would prohibit landlords from raising rent during the life of a rental arrangement by more than 5% each year.
A plan in Massachusetts would allocate more than $4 billion for the construction and maintenance of affordable housing, in response to the state’s estimate that more than 200,000 new dwellings will be required by 2030. In the history of the state, it would be the biggest housing investment.
But it would be too late to prevent Urbanovitch from having to pay more rent for her mobile home.
Not really having a location to move to is “my biggest worry,” she admitted. No place to go is available.”