Construction Booms for High-End Apartments, But Most Americans Can’t Afford Them

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In 2017, luxury rental properties made up 79% of all apartment construction in the U.S., according to a real estate report compiled by Yardi Matrix. That trend worsened into 2018, which also saw the national rental average reach an all-time high of $1,408 a month.

But wages for most Americans have hardly grown enough to keep up with high-end rental rates in most cities, leaving low-income renters stuck with few affordable, adequate living options.

In 2018, 100 percent of the apartments constructed in six of the 30 cities with the largest markets were high-end (Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Charlotte, Detroit, and Cleveland), compared to just two cities (St. Louis and Las Vegas) in 2017. In Michigan, minimum-wage earners have to work 80 hours a week to be able to afford to rent a 2-bedroom apartment.

A lack of affordable housing has also given rise to an unprecedented number of eviction filings. Evicted author Matthew Desmond estimated that in 2016 there were roughly 2.3 million evictions filed in the U.S.—about four every minute. 

Cities across the U.S. are moving to create eviction legal defense funds and provide free legal aid and resources to tenants facing evictions. Philadelphia’s city council will vote on a bill in November to provide free legal help to low-income tenants facing eviction. A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Bar Association estimated that an investment of $3.5 million would save the city $45.2 million in costs associated with homelessness, public benefits and hospital stays. 

Other cities like Akron and Columbus are looking to implement similar programs. Denver created a legal defense fund for renters facing eviction last year. A study by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy found that while housing organizations and landlords nearly always had representation, tenants had legal aid in only 2 percent of eviction cases.

“Eviction isn’t just a condition of poverty; it’s a cause of poverty,” Desmond, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, told NPR last year. “Eviction is a direct cause of homelessness, but it also is a cause of residential instability, school instability [and] community instability.”