Pioneer Press On a Renting Crisis and the Almost-Homeless

The St. Paul Pioneer Press does a good job looking at how a serious lack of affordable housing and the poor economy is increasing the ranks of the almost-homeless among renters. And that’s despite the housing crash.

The number of people making more than half of their income for housing “spiked to 14 percent in 2009, after decades of hovering near 8 percent,” according to the Pioneer Press. That stat is at the heart of this story, and I suspect it’s one that you’d see nationwide.

It’s even worse for Minnesota renters, nearly a quarter of whom pay more than half of their income in rent. Bob Shaw finds some good anecdotes to illustrate the story:

His monthly income is $795, and he pays $600 rent for himself, his 1-year-old daughter and a roommate.

“I eat a lot of pasta and rice,” he said….

Robinson pays about 80 percent of his income - $543 a month - to rent a studio apartment on Seventh Street in St. Paul.

After paying utilities, he said, he has about $20 left each month.

“Money is tight,” said Robinson, 54.

And the paper has some good quotes getting at the bigger picture:

“The bottom line is that our economy requires a percentage of people in jobs that can’t afford market-rate housing, and there are not enough subsidies to make up the difference,” said Ramsey County’s Anderson.

And backs that up with some data:

For a typical two-bedroom apartment, a person would have to work year-round, with no vacations, earning $16 per hour. The typical Minnesota renter makes $11.61 an hour.

Unfortunately, we’re not told how any of the renters interviewed here get their meager incomes. Is it government checks or paychecks? Even full-time minimum wage work would gross more than $1,200 a month. Their work status should have been included here. And finding a higher-earning person to interview would have made this story even better.

But the Pioneer Press is good in explaining the dearth of affordable housing. Government subsidies aren’t enough to make affordable housing construction worth the time of private developers and zoning makes it hard to build even if you want to.

The biggest reason is the slump in working-class and poor people’s income. The paper reports that while real rents in Minnesota are up 7 percent since 2000, real income for Minnesota renters has plunged a shocking 21 percent.

Meantime, Minnesota’s jobs situation is far better than the nation as a whole. Its unemployment rate is at 6.6 percent compared to 9.1 percent nationally.

Which is why it would be great to see other papers replicate this good story in their own states.

(h/t Kat Aaron)

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,