Rising rents are crowding older adults – Next Avenue | Vette Leader

Advice for tenants struggling with rent increases averaging 28% over the past three years

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

“I couldn’t afford that at all,” says Kersten.

Job and income losses over the past two years have left many unable to pay their rent and potentially face eviction | Recognition: Getty

So she moved into a nearby one-bedroom apartment for $1,400 a month with no washer/dryer or dishwasher. “I’ve downsized a lot,” says Kersten. But at this point in my life, she notes, “it’s a matter of need versus need.”

“Please don’t raise my rent”

Kersten is already planning what she will tell her new landlord when the lease expires in January. “I plan on calling him in October and begging a bit,” 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, Fla., freelance writer Sandra Gurvis, 71, has a similar story. She sold her home in Columbus, Ohio in January 2020 and moved into a two-bedroom, $1,625-a-month apartment in the small town next to Sarasota that she “fell in love with.”

But Gurvis’ monthly rent rose to $1,675 on renewal, and she recently learned it would increase by at least $300 a month in November, an increase of about 20% since her arrival. “I hope to God I can handle it,” says Gurvis. “It’s terrible.”

Their stories are all too similar for many renters in their 60’s and 70’s struggling with huge rent increases, although rental housing experts offer some suggestions, as you’ll see below.

“It has to be really, really hard for some people,” says Kate Terhune, director of brand marketing at Rent.com, the engine behind Redfin Rentals. According to the National Council on Aging, housing costs represent the largest expense and the largest portion of the household budget for Americans age 55 and older.

Rent increases across America

According to Realtor.com, the average monthly rent in America’s top 50 metro areas hit $1,876 in June, a new record after 15 consecutive months of growth. In places like New York City and San Francisco, where renters routinely spend more than 30% of their income on rent (more than what financial advisors typically recommend), it’s over $3,000.

A smiling woman in front of the US Capital building.  Next Avenue, can't afford rent, no steady income, no retirement
Sharon Greenfelt Kersten | Recognition: Courtesy of Sharon Greenfelt Kersten

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

Rents have risen even faster in many popular Sun Belt neighborhoods, up more than 30% over the past year in Sarasota/Bradenton, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach Florida, and Tempe, Arizona.

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

Severe vise for low-income renters

As Harvard researchers noted in The State of the Nation’s Housing 2022, “Many low-income households and households of color have lost jobs and income over the past two years, leaving them unable to pay their rent and potentially facing eviction.” More than 14% of tenants are in arrears.

“One-third of older adult households run out of money each month or are in debt after paying off essential expenses,” wrote Mary O’Donnell and Naomi Stanhaus of the RRF Foundation for Aging in the July-August 2022 issue of Generations today”.

The current rent riot is partly due to landlords making up for their inability to raise rents early in the pandemic and today’s vacancy rates at their lowest in 35 years.

A recent issue of HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver quoted the owner of the Monarch real estate company as saying about the prospect of rent increases: “We have an unprecedented opportunity, at least in my professional life, to actually increase rents on renewals to press …. Where will people go? You have nowhere to go.”

“Where will people go? They have nowhere to go.”

Since potential tenants now often only have a few accommodations to choose from, this leads to bidding wars. Some even write “love letters” to landlords in hopes that their personal notes will help them land an apartment.

The spike in rents has slowed somewhat recently, but housing analysts believe rents will continue to rise due to severe restrictions on the supply of housing and rentals. Although housing construction is increasing, most are high-end buildings.

“For low-income households … the pressure from high housing costs is unlikely to ease,” the Harvard researchers write.

Forego rent

Some older tenants are giving up renting altogether.

A couple smiles outside.  Next Avenue, can't afford rent, no steady income, no retirement
Abe and Laurie Gorelick | Recognition: Courtesy of Abe Gorelick

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

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

Her apartment in Boca has since gone on the market for $3,000 a month.

In 2021, Abe and Laurie Gorelick, a marketing consultant and interior designer in their 60s, learned their landlord was planning to increase the rent on their one-bedroom townhouse in Sudbury, Massachusetts by 10% to more than $3,000 a month.

“I said, ‘This isn’t going to happen,'” says Abe. “I’m not paying for that.” After getting the landlord to increase the rent by just 5%, the Gorelicks spent the next year looking for a cheaper apartment. That’s a good thing. Her landlord recently announced plans to increase the couples’ rent by 29% to $4,017.

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

Advice to combat rising rents

Moving to a cheaper area is one way to counter rising rents. Here are more suggestions from experts:

  • Check if you are eligible for state or local rent subsidies. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has an online listing of over 300 state and city funded rental housing programs. However, some of these programs have long waiting lists. Others run out of money quickly; When Tampa, Fla. recently offered $5 million in rent assistance, the aid money was gone in two days.
  • Ask your landlord about a two-year lease. This would help you secure a rental amount longer than the standard one year rental agreement. “Sometimes longer lease terms 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 smaller percentage increase by asking. Or your landlord cuts your costs if you give up an amenity like a parking space. “Say, ‘I don’t need this amenity and I won’t use it. Can I have a slightly reduced rent because I don’t need it?'” suggests Terhune.
  • Consider moving to a cheaper region. Today, the lowest rents in the country are found in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana, according to Consumeraffairs.com.

The Biden administration announced a series of measures in May 2022 to make renting more affordable, particularly for low- and middle-income Americans. These include building incentives for building apartments and rental housing, and expanding the tax credit for low-income housing. But some of these proposals will take time; others require Congressional approval.

For now, Terhune is offering this guide for renters: “The name of the game is find out where to save money and just buckle up and hold on because the housing market will get back to normal. I think we’re just past our peak of seeing huge rate increases.”

Photo by Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the former senior web editor of Next Avenue’s Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels, and the site’s former managing editor. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has served as a personal finance editor for Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping and CBS MoneyWatch. Continue reading

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