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58.5 Percent of Los Angeles Renters Can't Afford Their Rent

Image via <a href="">Cole Martin</a>
Image via Cole Martin

Greater Los Angeles is an unaffordable place to live, we know: wages aren't keeping up with rents at all, the city is playing catch-up on building new housing (and isn't working nearly fast enough), and it's all a mess. But let's quantify that mess, shall we? A nationwide study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University says that nearly 60 percent of renters are paying too much of their income towards simply putting a roof over their heads. Overall, in the LA/OC metro area, 58.5 percent of renters are "burdened," meaning that more than 30 percent of their income goes to rent. (Spend over 30 percent of your paycheck on rent, and it starts to cut into other necessary expenses—like food or healthcare—not to mention savings. That hurts renters, but also the local economy.) That makes LA the twenty-second least affordable metro in the country, far ahead of New York or San Francisco.

On top of that, a third of renters in the area (32.8 percent) are considered "severely burdened" by their rent, putting more than half of their income toward housing. The number of burdened renters has increased by less than half a percentage point since last year's Joint Center study, and nearly a percentage point from 2013, says the LA Times, but that's "an increase that reflects a growing problem." We're supposed to be finding solutions, not letting the problem get worse.

The unaffordability numbers are especially distressing for poorer and middle-income renters. In the LA/OC metro, nearly 91 percent of people who make $15,000 to $30,000 are burdened by their rent; a monstrous 70 percent of those renters are putting half their paycheck or more toward their monthly rent. Even among "moderate income renters," making between $30,000 and $45,000 a year, 78 percent are exceeding that 30-percent threshold and paying more than they can really afford for rent. (Compare to people making over $45k—only 26 percent are burdened, although that still makes LA twelfth in the nation.)

Part of the issue is that vacancy rates are really low in Los Angeles, as they are across the nation. "With vacancy rates now at their lowest point since 1985, rents are rising 3.5 percent annually in real terms—the fastest pace in nearly 30 years," the report says. In LA, vacancy is down to only about 3 percent—around half what it was in 2010.

Los Angeles wants to build a lot more housing, and is trying to think of crafty ways to get more affordable projects built. But until developers are found, financing is in place, and construction is done, the managing director of the center tells the Times, "The crisis in the number of renters paying excessive amounts of their income for housing continues."

The by-income-bracket breakdown of rent burdens:

· America's Rental Housing [JCHS]
· America's Rental Housing Map [Harvard]
· Los Angeles Building Way More Housing, But Not Nearly Enough [Curbed LA]
· Los Angeles Has the Biggest Disconnect in the US Between Wages and Rents [Curbed LA]