New Harvard Study Reveals Increase in U.S. Renters

February 5, 2020
Family of renters
By Robert Kneschke

Increased demand for rental properties from wealthy, middle-class renters is pushing the cost of rent to an uncomfortable level for many Americans. In a time when housing prices are also rising, this is creating a tense situation for lower-income renters: to the left is a rental affordability crisis, to the right is an affordable housing shortage. More than 10.3 million Americans making at least $75,000 are renting, and roughly 370,000 middle-class families spent more than 30% of their income on housing, which experts consider a considerable strain on families budgets. The average renter used to be a single person with a high school education who made less than $30,000 a year, according to a recent Harvard study. Now, the demographic skews more towards college-educated, married couples.

Many Americans, already struggling to find a home they can afford to buy, are increasingly at pains to find a place they can afford to rent. Tightening that squeeze: An influx of middle-class renters that is pushing up prices in much of the country.

"Ultimately, we're in a rental affordability crisis," said Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, a research associate with the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. 

A decade ago, more than two-thirds of people who rented an apartment or a single-family home in the U.S. earned less than $30,000 a year, a recent Harvard study shows. But beginning in 2010, with the economy still suffering the effects of the subprime mortgage crash, the share of middle-class renters surged. 

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