Can you afford your rent? A Harvard study finds 50% of renters cannot.


Here are three government programs that might help

A lot of attention has recently been paid to the cost of houses, pricing many out of the housing market. But a new report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies has focused attention on the plight of renters.

The report found that in 2022, half of all renters in the U.S. were “cost-burdened,” meaning they were spending more than 30% of their monthly income on rent. Among these renters, 12.1 million had “severe burdens,” paying over half of their income for housing, an all-time high. 

Nationwide, rents have eased slightly since then but remain elevated, compared to the pre-pandemic years.

“While the slowdown is a welcome change for renters, asking rents still remain well above pre-pandemic levels,” said Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, the lead author of the report. 

The Havard researchers found the extended period of rising rents during the pandemic put unaffordability at an all-time high. No income group has been spared.

Since 2019, cost-burden shares have risen the most for middle-income renter households earning between $30,000 and $74,999 annually. Higher-income households also saw their burden rate increase by 2.2%. 

Even lower-income renters making less than $30,000 annually saw their cost-burden rate rise to 83%, with the majority experiencing severe burdens.

Available help

There may be some government assistance to help with the rent, depending on your income and where you live. For example, Rural Rental Assistance is used to reduce the rent paid by low-income families who live in eligible Rural Rental Housing (RRH) and Farm Labor Housing (FLH) projects financed by the Rural Housing Service.

To receive assistance, monthly rent payments must exceed 30 percent of a household's adjusted monthly income, which the Harvard study shows to be a fact for many renters.

Interested applicants should contact the owner or manager of the apartment building to determine if they are eligible for rental assistance.

Another government program that helps with the rent is the Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8. A family that is issued a housing voucher is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of the family's choice where the owner agrees to rent under the program.

Housing subsidy

A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.

Renters who have lost their job or have long-term financial issues due to COVID-19 may qualify for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. This U.S. Department of the Treasury program provides funding to states, U.S. territories, local governments, and Indian tribes. 

These entities use the funds to help eligible households through existing or newly created rental assistance programs. Visit the Emergency Rental Assistance Program page to learn more and you will be directed to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau site to find the local program in your area. If you have specific questions about your area or your situation, contact one of the local identified programs.

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