Like a growing number of renters across the country, Christene James of Jackson, Mississippi is near the end of her rope. Her part-time job as a gas station cashier no longer covers expenses since her fiancé’s layoff at a water meter technology supplier.
“The pay is so low at most places, the rent becomes unaffordable,” she said. “After gas, food and necessities for our 2-year-old daughter, we are back to zero, which makes us apt to take out small payday loans which push us further back.”
Renters across the country are struggling to pay their rents. In many cases, it’s because rents are climbing faster than renters’ incomes.
A Stateline analysis of Census Bureau data shows that in 27 states, the median or typical renter is now spending more than 30 percent of income on rent, a situation considered “burdensome” by federal standards. That’s a sea change from 2000, when no states were in that position. Federal guidelines say families paying more than 30 percent of income may have difficulty paying for food, clothing and other necessities.
High numbers of renters who pay too much of their income for rent can cause economic problems for an entire community, according to a Center for Housing Policystudy this year. “Spending a disproportionate share of income on housing stifles economic growth as these households restrict their spending,” the study concluded.
This situation has left some areas and states to create their own programs to help renters. A review this year by the Technical Assistance Collaborative found 52 state-funded subsidy programs in 30 states, ranging from North Dakota’s total $42,000 spending on rental gap assistance to Massachusetts’ $83 million HomeBASE program.
Many of the programs are focused on homelessness prevention, and many target specific populations like the disabled or the elderly.