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Renting a place to live is getting a lot more expensive

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In many parts of the country, rents are up by hundreds of dollars a month just in the past year. That's according to a survey that tracks rental listings across the biggest 50 U.S. cities. Here's NPR's Chris Arnold.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Last year, Laura Kraft (ph) landed a job in Orlando, Fla. She had just gotten her Ph.D. in entomology, meaning she studies bugs. And she'd be working on a big nature exhibit at a theme park, which sounded great. Then she started looking for an apartment.

LAURA KRAFT: I started looking at rent and was, like, not sure if I was going to take the job. Like, the rent was so high in Orlando, it really blew me away.

ARNOLD: First, she looked for a place of her own. But anything affordable had a waiting list at least six months long. So she found a Facebook group just for theme park employees looking for roommates so that they could afford a place to live.

KRAFT: My roommate and I together are paying $2,200. I know a lot of folks who work part-time at two different theme parks because that's the only way that they can make their bills. And instead of having just one roommate, a lot of people that I know have, like, three, four, sometimes five roommates in a house.

ARNOLD: The cost of renting a place in Orlando rose nearly 30% just last year alone. That's according to a survey by the real estate firm Redfin. Parts of Florida, New York and New Jersey are seeing particularly steep jumps in rent, too, as is Austin, Texas, with the biggest one-year gain of 40%. Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather says it's worth noting that these are new listings for apartments.

DARYL FAIRWEATHER: That doesn't literally mean that every person in Austin is going to see their rent go up 40%. But it means that if you are on the market right now, looking for an apartment or home to rent, the prices will be 40% higher than they were the year before.

ARNOLD: The story is a bit different from city to city. Fairweather says a lot of technology workers have been moving to Austin, so that's pushing up prices. In New York City, rents are rebounding after falling earlier in the pandemic. But she says rents are rising more than usual just about everywhere.

FAIRWEATHER: The root cause of the problem is a lack of supply. We have not built enough homes to meet demand.

ARNOLD: Redfin survey looks at the 50 largest U.S. cities. On average, rents there went up just 3% in 2020. It's about normal. Last year, though, rents were up 14%. Fairweather says one factor is that more millennials in their late 20s and early 30s feel like they're done with roommates or their parents' basement.

FAIRWEATHER: Millennials are the biggest generation. We're forming households. And we want a place of our own. And that is causing an increase in demand. We should have seen this coming and built for that demand. But we have had things preventing us from building more housing, like restrictive zoning.

ARNOLD: Especially in higher-cost parts of the country, zoning rules make it hard to build cheaper, smaller houses or apartments that are more tightly packed together. That's a big reason we do not have enough homes.

FAIRWEATHER: And it's really starting to bite us now that demand is starting to increase.

ARNOLD: Allison Best-VanLiew (ph) is feeling that bite all the way up in Buffalo, N.Y.

ALLISON BEST-VANLIEW: It's been a little while, to be honest.

ARNOLD: She and her husband have been renting a pretty cheap place there on a busy street for a few years. They pay $900 a month.

BEST-VANLIEW: We do not have a dishwasher (laughter), which is normally fine. But when you're thinking about trying to start a family and all of that - because with the bottles alone, like, you kind of need that.

ARNOLD: But as they've been looking around for a better place, she says, everything seems to be getting more expensive.

BEST-VANLIEW: Between 12 and 1,400 for a place relatively close to this size with just a dishwasher.

ARNOLD: Like a lot of young couples, they'd rather buy a house. But with home prices hitting new records, they can't afford it. And with so many people in that situation, that itself keeps demand for rentals up and helps push rents even higher.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELFFIRE'S "KALA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.
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