The Washington Post: In expensive cities, rents fall for the rich — but rise for the poor

The Washington Post, August 6, 2018: In expensive cities, rents fall for the rich — but rise for the poor
U.S. cities struggling with soaring housing costs have found some success in lowering rents this year, but that relief has not reached the renters most at risk of losing their housing.

Nationally, the pace of rent increases is beginning to slow down, with the average rent in at least six cities falling since last summer, according to Zillow data.

But the decline is being driven primarily by decreasing prices for high-end rentals. People in low-end housing, the apartments and other units that house working-class residents, are still paying more than ever.

Since last summer, rents have fallen for the highest earners while increasing for the poorest in San Francisco, Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, Pittsburgh, Washington and Portland, Ore., among other cities. In several other metro areas — including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Houston and Miami — rents have risen for the poor and the rich alike.

The ongoing increase in prices for low-end renters poses a challenge for city officials who have vowed to lower housing costs for working-class residents already struggling with tepid wage growth in the U.S. economy.

City officials have said a boom in luxury housing construction would cause rents to fall for everyone else, arguing that creating new units for those at the top would ease competition for cheaper properties.

In part based on that theory, cities have approved thousands of new luxury units over the past several years, hoping to check high rents that have led more than 20 million American renters to be classified as “cost burdened,” defined as spending more than 30 percent of one’s income on housing.

But although some advocates say the dividends could still pay off for low-income renters, others say more direct government action is needed to prevent poor residents from being forced out of their cities or into homelessness. They have called for the federal government to help construct more affordable units, or offer greater rental assistance for poor families.

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