Rental Crisis in America

America’s renters are facing a crisis. A rising number of Americans are paying half or more of their monthly income for rent. Top financial gurus, like Dave Ramsey, suggest that no more than 25% of your take home pay should go towards housing (and this includes taxes and insurance) to be sustainable. Source.

But for many, this is simply not realistic.

To bring awareness of the plight of these Americans, the Make Room Campaign is taking center stage, in an unlikely venue.

Many in the music industry are known for their awareness causes and yet playing concerts in people’s homes is a brilliant way to highlight just how significant this issue is for a significant & growing number of Americans.

But do we really understand what other people are facing when we say there is a rental crisis in our country?

What does this look like? (This example is not exhaustive, but is simply a glimpse into the lives of many struggling Alaskans.)

Let’s say a single mom, we’ll call her Victoria, she has two kids, and she has a “good” job that pays $10/hour. Victoria is money savvy and does her best to budget and live within her means. She works 29.5 hours a week (because her employer tries to keep her less than “full-time” to avoid providing healthcare benefits). Her gross pay is $590 for two weeks. She has federal payroll taxes deducted and brings home $544.86 every other week. Source.

Rent (for a one bedroom apartment) is $750 month and includes electric, heat, & water. From her monthly income of 1,089.72 she has $339.72 left over to use for groceries (average cost for 3 people, for 2 weeks, source) $183.00, cell phone ($30/month, no home phone) $15, fuel for her car (average of 15 gals @ $3.12/gal per week) $93.60, she also has to pay for childcare 2 nights a week when she has to work the late shift (a friend watches her children for a reduced rate of $10/day, which is a dream deal) $40, that leaves a grand total of $8.12 left at the end of each pay check (which is usually spent on food). There is no money available for saving. No money for OTC medicine or medical issues not covered by Denali Kid Care. No money available for car maintenance and especially not for major expenses like replacing tires or a major mechanical issue. There is no money left at the end of the month for birthday gifts, going out to eat or any of the things that most of us take for granted as something we deserve. She can’t afford cable or trash service, she doesn’t have internet and only uses the library’s occasionally. She can’t afford to splurge on pizza or go out for ice cream with her kids, she grows weary of telling them “no” every time they ask for something. She prays that her kids wont get hurt or sick so she wont miss work. Missing one week of work would likely mean eviction for them.

Victoria has contemplated getting a part-time job to help boost her income, but any job that she can work on weekends will only pay minimum wage, and then she would also have to have more childcare expense, more fuel and likely more expense due to work clothing needs/shoes, etc. After factoring her expenses she decides that a part-time job wouldn’t bring home enough to make it worth while as well as the fact that she would then only see her two children 3 nights a week. Victoria uses her family’s Permanent Fund Dividend and income tax return each year to buy new tires and maintain her car (including annual taxes, insurance, etc), fund birthday and holiday gifts for her children and purchase clothing & shoes. Without their PFD and income tax return she wouldn’t be able to afford these things.

A more sustainable rent amount for Victoria’s earnings would be $300-400 per month. Having $350-400 dollars extra each month to use for necessities and she would be able to save a little money each month and perhaps come out ahead at the end of the year. But, there are simply no rental options available in that price range. None.

But what if Victoria had a tiny house? What if she had the ability to own her own home, to have the chance to live within her means and even prosper with her income? What if she wouldn’t have to rely on government assistance to simply get by? What would her life be like if her financial outlook wasn’t so grim?

What would Alaska look like if the majority of her citizens were stable? What would America look like?