Surging Rent in the Nation’s Largest Cities Are Putting Millions at Risk of Homelessness

rents increasing across the US

In the Wake of the Supreme Court’s End to the Eviction Moratorium, Tenants Are Struggling to Remain in Their Homes

Surging rent growth in some of the largest cities in the U.S. puts millions at risk of experiencing homelessness.

The data shows that rents grew by an overall average of 10.1 percent across the 50 largest metropolitan areas in 2021. This growth pushed the nationwide median rent to $1,790. This means an individual needs to make approximately $37 per hour to avoid being considered rent-burdened. For comparison, rents increased by just 1.9 percent in 2020, the data shows.

“With rents already at a high and expected to keep going up, rental affordability will increasingly challenge many Americans in 2022,” said Danielle Hale,’s chief economist.

During the early days of the pandemic, rents fell significantly as millions of renters suddenly found themselves unemployed. Some reports suggest that rents fell by as much as 20 percent in some areas.

In response, the federal government created an eviction moratorium, preventing disgruntled landlords from removing their tenants in hopes of finding someone else who would pay. The government also appropriated nearly $50 billion to two emergency rental assistance payment programs that should have helped both renters and landlords.

Rents remained relatively flat in early 2021 but gained momentum throughout the year. They really picked up steam during the summer after the Supreme Court struck down the federal eviction moratorium.

According to data, seven out of the top-10 cities with the fastest-growing rents are in states with high homeless populations. For example, the metro areas surrounding cities like Riverside, California; Tampa Bay, Florida; and Memphis, Tennessee led the country with greater than 25 percent rent increases. Combined, these three states account for more than 168,000 people experiencing homelessness. That is approximately one-quarter of the nation’s total homeless population.

The most significant rent increase last year was measured in two-bedroom units. These units saw a combined average rent increase of 11.7 percent on an annualized basis. This was primarily due to the pandemic increasing demand for larger housing.

While the market cooled off a little bit in December, Hale expects another year of rent growth in 2022 as supply and demand imbalances persist. Interest rates are expected to rise multiple times this year, meaning mortgages and other loans will be more expensive. This may ultimately depress buyer sentiment and thereby create more demand in the rental market, Hale argues.

“For those thinking about making the transition from renting to buying their first home, rising rents will remain a motivating factor even as for-sale home prices and mortgage rates continue to climb,” said Hale.

Continuing to rent may be the best financial option for many families this year, but it may also expose them to increased risks caused by climate change.

According to the latest data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 40 percent of the nation’s rental housing is in census tracts with relatively or very high expected losses from hazards such as coastal flooding, drought, and hurricanes. This means that more than 17.6 million renters are at risk of losing their homes due to climate change alone.

Many of the units that are at-risk are also some of the most affordable to low-income workers. The study identified four million units that rented for $600 per month or less. Another 5.1 million units rented between $600 and $999.

Solving the problem may not be as simple as building more affordable rental units, Hale said. Supply chain issues are continuing to push material prices higher. Also, the competitive labor market is elevating labor rates as well. The prevalence of the Omicron variant isn’t helping matters either, as homebuilders struggle to maintain their workforces.

The rising labor rates are a silver lining for some renters, Hale adds, especially for those who can work remotely. But, for those who must still commute to a job site, this can create a catch-22 if an individual’s wages don’t keep pace with the local cost of living.

“Regardless of where you live, renting is generally more expensive now than in prior years,” Hale said. “However, expected income growth could give renters more negotiating power – especially if you continue to have workplace flexibility.”

How You Can Help

The pandemic proved that we need to rethink housing in the U.S. It also showed that aid programs work when agencies and service organizations are provided with sufficient funds and clear guidance on spending aid dollars.

Contact your officials and representatives. Tell them you support keeping many of the pandemic-related aid programs in place for future use. They have proven effective at keeping people housed, which is the first step to ending homelessness once and for all.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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