The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies recently found that many individuals are spending more of their income on rent and have less to spend on other necessities.
Between 2000 and 2012, the average cost of rent has increased 6 percent while median incomes have decreased 13 percent. Rentals also tend to be disproportionately low-income households. Forty-six percent of renters have incomes of less than $30,000 a year and, in the 100 most populated metropolitan areas, 45 percent of rental units were in lower-income areas. At the same time, the demand for rentals has increased. The 2000s was the strongest decade of growth in renter households over the past half-century with 976,000 new renters.
In 1960, about 12 percent of renters were paying more than 30 percent of their income for rent, considered a moderate burden, and about 22 percent of renters were paying over 50 percent of their income to rent, considered a severe burden. In 2010, 27 percent of renters were severely burdened and 50 percent of renters were moderately burdened. A renter making minimum wage would need to pay less $400 a month to avoid being burdened. But in 2011, the median gross rent was $843 a month and fewer than 8 percent of units rented for less than $400 a month. Also, nearly half of rentals available for less than $400 a month were built more than 50 years ago. In 2011, 11.8 million low-income renters competed for 6.9 million rentals affordable at that level. 2.6 million of these 6.9 million rentals were occupied by higher income households. For every 100 renters, only 36 units are both available and affordable.
While assistance does exist, it is not often available. In 2011, the percentage of households who were eligible for assistance and actually received assistance shrank from 27 percent to 24 percent and the number of unassisted renters who were severely burdened grew from 2.6 million to 8.5 million. Renters who are burdened spend 40 percent less on food than those who are not burdened. They also spent less on healthcare, retirement savings, and transportation.
For LGBT renters, the situation can be even worse. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that same-sex couples were less likely than opposite-sex couples to receive a response email when attempting to access a rental unit. Although Illinois currently has legislation to prevent housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, the problem may still exist, according to the study.
When asked how Chicago compares price-wise, Kay Cleaves of Baird and Warner told Windy City Times that Chicago is more expensive than the rest of Illinois due largely to the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance, which puts a heavy burden on landlords. But Cleaves said that, compared to San Francisco, New York, or Washington, D.C., the cost is much lower for a bigger space and renting is much more relaxed as you do not have to bring a resume and conduct an interview for a unit.
The City of Chicago lists the 2012 area median income for a single person as $51,600, enough to afford a monthly rent of $1,290 at 30 percent of income. Cleaves said that a one-bedroom apartment in a weaker area costs around $700 to $900 while a one-bedroom apartment in a stronger area is around $1,600 to $1,900 and a two-bedroom apartment ranges from $800 to $3,000 depending on the area.
According to the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University, Chicago has seen rent levels stay the same while income levels have declined over the past few years. Renters making less than half of the area median income represented over 70 percent of the increase in renters and nearly 58 percent of the rental market. In Cook County in 2011, 27 percent of renters were moderately burdened and 15 percent were severely burdened.
Chicago has also seen an increase in demand with a 10.3 percent increase in the number of rental households and an 11.6 percent decrease in the number of owner households in the past few years. When asked about the increased demand, Cleaves said that housing costs are going back down and developers are now building more apartments instead of building condos. DePaul was not available for comment.
The gap between supply and demand of affordable housing is worst in and around the Loop and in Lakeview and Lincoln Park. Cleaves also mentioned the Edgebrook area ( in northwest Chicago ) as one of the most competitive. Said Cleaves, in the most competitive areas, "unless you have immaculate credit, perfect income, and a perfect record you don't stand a chance." But McKim Barnes of Draper and Kramer told the Windy City Times that finding a good neighborhood also depends on "the quality of the house, the behavior of the people, how much you will write a check for, how long it will take you to get to work and how easy it is to get to work."
Chicago has also seen an increase in the rent of single-family homes. Said Barnes "there are companies designed specifically to buy single family homes and rent them out." Cleaves told the Windy City Times that, on the outskirts of the recession, many people were forced to rent who could not afford their homes and could not sell either. Now that housing prices are coming back down, those people need to make a decision about whether to keep renting or not. Cleaves said her biggest concern is that renters will not get notice that the house will no longer be available for rent.
When asked what she thought was the most important thing about renting in Chicago, Cleaves said that you must know your rights. The Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance includes rules and regulations about renting that are not included in the Illinois Ordinance and running afoul of it may end in court. In addition, Cleaves and Barnes both suggested contacting the local police for information on the safest neighborhoods.