As more Americans become rent-burdened, homelessness rises in the costliest areas

Sky-high housing costs aren’t just straining Americans’ budgets. They’re increasing homelessness.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development said Wednesday that homelessness ticked up 0.7% in 2017. By HUD’s definition, 553,742 people were homeless at least one night during the year.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that. As HUD puts it, homelessness actually declined “in most communities of the U.S. with increases reported in high-cost areas.”

In 30 states and even in relatively expensive Washington, D.C., homelessness was down – but, according to HUD, “challenges in some major metropolitan areas, however, have had a major impact on the national trend lines.”

Read: Malls are dying. There aren’t enough homes. Is there a solution?


Expensive rent and surging home prices aren’t just coastal stories, of course. There’s a housing shortage throughout the country. Even metro areas that were slammed in the housing crisis are rebounding, and as Americans flee the highest-cost areas, they help nudge prices higher throughout the country.

Read: ‘High-cost housing refugees’ are bringing the real estate crunch into Middle America

But the high-cost places are, well, high-cost.

An Apartment List analysis for MarketWatch showed that the metros with the most cost-burdened residents are nearly all in California, Florida, or the Northeast. (“Moderately cost-burdened” renters are those who spend 30 to 50% of their income on rent, while the “severely cost-burdened” spend 50% or more.)

Metro name Total Cost Burdened Median Rent  Median Income
Miami, FL 62.8%  $                   1,249  $                 51,362
Fresno, CA 60.5%  $                      930  $                 48,715
Oxnard, CA 58.3%  $                   1,647  $                 80,135
Riverside, CA 58.2%  $                   1,235  $                 58,236
Honolulu, HI 58.1%  $                   1,621  $                 80,513
Los Angeles, CA 58.0%  $                   1,403  $                 65,950
San Diego, CA 57.1%  $                   1,504  $                 70,824
New Orleans, LA 57.1%  $                      931  $                 48,804
Bridgeport, CT 55.8%  $                   1,412  $                 90,123
North Port, FL 55.7%  $                   1,111  $                 53,625
Deltona, FL 55.4%  $                      988  $                 46,090
Springfield, MA 55.1%  $                      871  $                 54,855
Orlando, FL 54.8%  $                   1,118  $                 52,385
McAllen, TX 54.5%  $                      697  $                 36,176
Bakersfield, CA 54.5%  $                      927  $                 49,903
Sacramento, CA 53.6%  $                   1,159  $                 64,052
Chattanooga, TN 53.3%  $                      765  $                 46,537
Cape Coral, FL 53.3%  $                   1,080  $                 52,909
New York, NY 53.3%  $                   1,346  $                 71,897
Stockton, CA 53.2%  $                   1,105  $                 59,518
Provo, UT 45.5%  $                      936  $                 69,288
Salt Lake City, UT 45.3%  $                   1,026  $                 68,196
Dallas, TX 45.3%  $                   1,022  $                 63,812
Oklahoma City, OK 45.3%  $                      801  $                 55,065
Wichita, KS 45.2%  $                      760  $                 53,663
Boise City, ID 45.1%  $                      858  $                 55,162
Tulsa, OK 44.8%  $                      793  $                 51,623
Cincinnati, OH 44.6%  $                      793  $                 60,260
Nashville, TN 44.6%  $                      973  $                 60,030
Grand Rapids, MI 44.6%  $                      812  $                 60,212
Scranton, PA 44.6%  $                      712  $                 47,422
Knoxville, TN 44.4%  $                      763  $                 49,862
Charlotte, NC 44.2%  $                      949  $                 59,979
Louisville, KY 44.2%  $                      790  $                 54,546
Columbus, OH 43.7%  $                      877  $                 60,294
Kansas City, MO 43.3%  $                      885  $                 61,385
Pittsburgh, PA 43.3%  $                      766  $                 56,063
Raleigh, NC 42.1%  $                   1,026  $                 71,685
Harrisburg, PA 41.2%  $                      923  $                 61,467
Ogden, UT 37.9%  $                      888  $                 70,227

As Sydney Bennet, an Apartment List research associate, puts it, “Households spending that large of a share of income on rent likely don’t have a buffer for when things go wrong, like a medical emergency, or a car breakdown and thus are more likely to be evicted or end up homeless.”

It’s worth noting that Los Angeles ranks sixth on the cost-burdened list and New York isn’t even in the top 10 – but in both cities the number of cost-burdened tenants has risen over time as rents have surged for several years. Across the U.S., the median rent rose 8% in the ten years to 2016, while in New York they rose 15%, and in Los Angeles 13%.

“Rent change doesn’t seem to fully explain the HUD data, but the combination of rent growth with already high rents are likely to push renters over the edge,” Bennet said.

HUD officials say they understand the situation. “With rents rising faster than incomes, we need to bring everybody to the table to produce more affordable housing and ease the pressure that is forcing too many of our neighbors into our shelters and onto our streets,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson in a statement. “This is not a federal problem–it’s everybody’s problem.”

Of course, surging prices are also hitting buyers.

Home prices rose at the fastest pace since 2014 last month, according to the closely-watched Case-Shiller index.

And many of the areas with the most expensive rental costs also make for the priciest purchases. According to data from the National Association of Realtors, many of the most expensive metros in the third quarter of 2017 were in California, or the New York City metro area.

But those who struggle to pay the rent may be more vulnerable. And many affordable-housing advocates are worried that the tax bills advancing through Congress may make the problem much worse.

One industry expert told MarketWatch in November that he expects an increase in homelessness if the legislation becomes law, and a resulting increase in public spending on crime and health services.

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