Even though I’m an affordable housing and community development practitioner, the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard’s report America’s Rental Housing: Evolving Markets and Needs surprised me with its astonishing data on the spike in renting and the challenges we face as a city, state and nation. The report thoughtfully lays out the demographic and housing stock trends, while unveiling potential causes and future solutions. Here are a few takeaways:
This decade has seen a significant rise in renting and this growing trend does not just apply to young adults or low-income families.
- Renters are not who you think they are. Rental properties are not what you think they are, or where you think they are.
- With half of Americans paying more than 30 percent of their income toward rent (a sign of housing cost burden and instability), housing affordability is a critical national issue.
Debunking the myths around rental and ownership is step one in redesigning public policy. Here are three statistics to back the above: More than 1/3 of renters are between the ages of 35 and 54; families with children account for nearly as many renters as single-person households; and 17 percent of renters make more than $75,000 or more a year. Realizing that rental housing is not just for low-income families and young adults, policymakers and the private sector should continue exploring if the housing stock matches demand and how we can utilize the plethora of previously foreclosed properties to keep up with a rising demand from a range of household types. For instance, 40 percent of rentals are single-family homes and not large, high-rise multifamily housing! Single-family homes are traditionally thought of as being purchased and lived in by the same person, yet single-family rental housing is a critical vehicle for housing families. Similarly, the report points out that most of the net increase in renters will come from minority populations that historically have larger families. The relationship between the increasing demand for larger, more spacious housing options and the availability of single-family homes for rent will be critical for the future housing market recovery.
With rental housing being sought out by a wider range of the population, rents are rising and placing a burden on America’s most needy households. If we broaden the lens, over 50 percent of all renters now live with housing cost burden. This severe instability affects both the nation’s and the Chicago region’s economy, public health, education and well-being. There is an urgent need to start thinking about social issues like affordability and homelessness as part of mainstream debates on economic growth and policy stability.
The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) supports a wide range of programs that aim to promote a balanced housing stock that serves the needs of the region’s residents. MPC takes a unique position to create unlikely partnerships between governments, the private sector and communities to tackle these enormous challenges. Currently, MPC and its partners are implementing strategies to better manage and promote quality single-family rental housing across the suburbs. This new initiative builds on findings from MPC’s Managing Single-Family Rental paper that highlighted the changing demand for single-family rental and strategies for ensuring this new investment pattern benefits communities across the region.Similarly, MPC is an advisor to the Preservation Compact, a cross-cutting effort to stem the loss of affordable rental housing across Cook County. The list goes on, but the point remains the same: The region’s—and country’s—rental housing stock is changing, and as advocates and policymakers we must adapt to a changing economy, evolving renter population and a more nuanced housing stock.