Rising rents squeeze the elderly

By Richard Eisenberg, Next avenue

Sharon Greenfelt Kersten, a 70-year-old publicist, loved the $1,900-a-month two-bedroom rental home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where she lived and worked. But in November 2021, her landlord told her he planned to raise the rent by about 40%, to $2,800 a month.

“I absolutely couldn’t afford it,” Kersten says.

So, she ended up moving to a nearby $1,400-a-month one-bedroom apartment with no washer/dryer or dishwasher. “I’ve downsized significantly,” Kersten says. But at this point in my life, she notes, “it’s about want versus need.”

“Please don’t raise my rent”

Kersten is already thinking about what she will tell her new landlord when the lease ends in January. “I plan to call him in October and do some begging,” she says. “I’m just going to say, ‘I want to be here forever. Please don’t raise my rent. “”

About 225 miles northwest, in Bradenton, Florida, freelance writer Sandra Gurvis, 71, has a similar story. She sold her home in Columbus, Ohio, in January 2020 and moved into a $1,625-a-month two-bedroom apartment in the small town near Sarasota that she “fell in love with.”

But Gurvis’ monthly rent rose to $1,675 when she renewed, and she recently learned it would go up by at least $300 a month in November, an increase of about 20% since her arrival. “I hope God will be able to handle this,” Gurvis said. “It’s awful.”

Their stories are too similar for many renters in their 60s and 60s struggling with huge rent hikes, though rental housing experts have some suggestions, as you’ll see below.

“It must be really, really difficult for some people,” says Kate Terhune, director of brand marketing for Rent.com, the engine behind Redfin Rentals. According to the National Council on Aging, housing costs are the single largest expense and largest share of household budgets for Americans 55 and older.

Soaring rents across America

The median monthly rent in the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States hit $1,876 in June, a new high after 15 consecutive months of increases, according to Realtor.com. That’s over $3,000 in places like New York and San Francisco, where renters routinely spend more than 30% of their income on rent (more than financial advisors typically recommend).

Rents in America have risen 14%, overall, since June 2021, rising much more than wages. And they are now 28% higher than in 2019.

In many popular Sun Belt retirement locations, rents have risen again: by more than 30% over the past year in Sarasota/Bradenton, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in Florida and in Tempe, Arizona. .

“There are a lot of people moving to cities that seem to be cheaper to live in, but the more people move there, the higher the prices go,” says Terhune. “You see it everywhere.”

Tight grip on low-income tenants

As Harvard researchers noted in The State of the Nation’s Housing 2022, “Job and income losses over the past two years have left many low-income households of color unable to meet their rents and potentially threatened with deportation”. More than 14% of tenants are in arrears.

“A third of elderly households either run out of money every month or are in debt after meeting essential expenses,” wrote Mary O’Donnell and Naomi Stanhaus of the RRF Foundation for Aging in the edition of July-August 2022 from “Generations Today”.

The current rent ruckus is in part because landlords are making up for their inability to raise rents at the start of the pandemic and current vacancy rates are at their lowest level in 35 years.

A recent edition of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” quoted the landlord of real estate company Monarch speaking about the prospect of rent increases this way: “We have an unprecedented opportunity, at least in my professional life. , to really push rents during renewals… Where are people going to go?

Since potential tenants now often have few places to choose from, this has led to rental bidding wars. Some even write “love letters” to landlords, hoping their personal notes will help them find accommodation.

The strong rise in rents has moderated a bit lately, but housing analysts expect rents to continue to rise due to severe constraints on the supply of apartments and rental houses. Although there is a strong growth in the construction of apartments, most of these are high-end buildings.

“For low-income households … the pressure of high housing costs is unlikely to abate,” the Harvard researchers wrote.

Waive the rental

Some older tenants forgo renting altogether.

A few months ago, in Boca Raton, Florida, retirees Ed and Lucy Gruvman learned that their monthly rent of $2,220 would increase by about 15%. It would have been difficult, Ed says, since they live on Social Security. So the couple moved into a condo that Ed’s late parents owned.

“I said to my wife, ‘Why do we have to pay $30,000 a year when we have my parents’ apartment?'” Ed says. “The landlords are totally taking advantage of the situation.”

Their Boca apartment has since been on the market for $3,000 a month.

In 2021, Abe and Laurie Gorelick, a marketing consultant and interior designer in their 60s, learned that their landlord planned to raise the rent on their one-bedroom townhouse in Sudbury, Massachusetts, by 10%, to over $3,000 per month.

“I said, ‘That’s not going to happen,'” Abe said. “I don’t pay for this.” After asking the landlord to raise the rent by just 5%, the Gorelicks spent the next year looking for more affordable housing. Good thing too. Their landlord recently announced plans to raise the couple’s rent by 29% to $4,017.

The Gorelicks moved in July and into a three-bedroom house about two hours from Cape Cod, which cost them about $2,600 a month.

Tips for tackling skyrocketing rents

Moving to a less expensive neighborhood is one way to fight rising rents. Here are some more expert suggestions:

  • Call the HOPE hotline (888-995-HOPE). The National Council on Aging says this line offers free advice and education to tenants.
  • See if you qualify for state or local rent subsidies. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has an online listing of more than 300 state and city-funded rental housing programs. Some of these programs, however, have long waiting lists. Others quickly run out of money; When Tampa, Florida recently offered $5 million in housing assistance, the relief money was gone in two days.
  • Ask your landlord for a two-year lease. This would help you lock in an amount of rent for longer than the standard one-year lease. “Sometimes longer rental periods can come with a nominal deduction from the monthly rent,” says Terhune.
  • Try to negotiate the amount of your rent increase. You may be able to get a lower percentage increase by asking. Or your landlord can cut your costs if you give up a convenience like parking. “Say, ‘I don’t need this equipment and I’m not going to use it. Can I get a little reduced rent because I don’t need it?'” Terhune suggests.
  • Consider moving to a less expensive area. These days, the lowest rents in the country are found in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, according to Consumeraffairs.com.

The Biden administration announced in May 2022 a series of actions to make renting more affordable, especially for low- and middle-income Americans. They include offering incentives to builders for building apartments and rental homes as well as expanding the low-income housing tax credit. But some of these proposals will take time; others will require congressional approval.

For now, Terhune offers these tips for renters: “The name of the game is: figure out where you can save money and just strap in and hold on, because the housing market will normalize again. I think we just passed our peak of seeing huge rate increases.”

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