Rising rents squeeze Americans across the country

We've talked about inflation a lot lately and how it's at a 40-year high. But rising rents are a part of that calculation. In many places around the country, rents have been climbing for months, far above the lows of the pandemic. And it's not only happening in the largest cities. Our community correspondents in New Orleans, Fresno, California and St. Louis have the story.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We have talked about inflation quite a bit lately and how it's at a 40-year high. What many people may not realize is that rising rents are a part of that calculation.

    In many places around the country, rents have been climbing for months, far above the lows of the pandemic. And it's not only happening in the largest cities.

    Our community correspondents in New Orleans; Fresno, California; and St. Louis filed a series of reports on how rent increases are hitting now.

  • Roby Chavez:

    I'm Roby Chavez in New Orleans, where 50 percent of residents in the city are renters.

    During the last six months, the city has experienced the second fastest rent growth in the country, only behind Miami. Since 2000, rents have risen 49 percent, but incomes have dropped by 8 percent. After the economic blows from the pandemic and back-to-back hurricanes in Southeast Louisiana, the latest surge in rental costs is putting the squeeze on people looking for an affordable place to live.

    The city says there are already 20,000 families on the wait-list for subsidized public housing and no more applications are being taken because there just isn't enough supply.

    After six years, Stephanie Guffey is packing up her home. In the last year, her rent has tripled from $600 to $1,800. The latest increase is forcing her to move out and put all of her belongings in storage. Even after working six days a week, she still can't find an affordable place to live. Her future is uncertain.

  • Stephanie Guffey, New Orleans, Louisiana:

    The one thing I know is that I can't stay here.

    It's humbling, because you get into a situation that you didn't think you would ever be in before as a grown adult and college graduate, and you just don't think that that is something that is ever going to happen to you.

  • Roby Chavez:

    Even before the pandemic, evictions in New Orleans were at a crisis level. The rate of evictions here is twice the national average. In February, evictions were 23 percent higher than pre-pandemic levels.

    So, what's causing the latest surge in housing insecurity? Rental advocates say landlords are having to pay higher prices for flood and property insurance. On top of that, they are still paying for renovation costs from Hurricane Ida, not to mention landlords have to recoup losses from COVID. All of these are factors leading to higher rents.

    The latest rent boom in New Orleans is happening faster than ever in a very tight market, and at a time when pandemic rental protections have all but dried up.

  • Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado:

    I'm Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado in Fresno County, where many families are earning too little to afford the rising cost of housing. An estimate by the Web site RentCafe puts the average rent for a 900-square-foot apartment in the city of Fresno at $1,400. It's a 16 percent increase from 2020. For half of the renters in Fresno County, 30 percent of their income goes to paying rent, a threshold that determines rent burden.

    And stagnant wages across the region have made this worse. One-third of households in the San Joaquin Valley are not making a living wage. As Fresno emerges from the pandemic, attention has turned to how city policies can potentially help keep people housed.

    Studies show high rent prices in Fresno put families at greater risk of housing displacement. So now tenants and community advocates are urging city leaders to implement solutions like rent control and legal support for families facing eviction. That debate is likely to take place in the coming weeks, as city leaders say they plan to address the issue.

  • Dez Martinez, Fresno, California:

    When you're used to paying maybe $850 for a house, and next door, a building, an apartment complex is built, and it's $1,650, it's like, what are you guys trying to do to us? It feels like they're trying to run out all the low-income people in Fresno, California.

    People are having to move out of state and out of city in order just to survive.

  • Gabrielle Hays:

    This is Gabrielle Hays in St. Louis, Missouri, where housing organizations say rent prices have risen in different zip codes not just in the last few months, but over the course of recent years.

    Data shows the average apartment rent in St. Louis before the pandemic was around $1,050. As of February, that number sits at a little over $1,200. More recent numbers show the price of a studio, a two-bedroom and a four-bedroom all increased, while three-bedrooms saw their biggest spike last summer.

    Then, when you add lack of affordable housing or the wide-reaching effects of gentrification, a more complex picture forms, not only for renters, but those who aspire to rent too.

    Last November, the city's affordable housing report card showed St. Louis got an F in affordable housing for Black households, renters, and people with the people with the lowest incomes.

    Tenant-led housing groups say, when you then add a global pandemic and inflation, people are struggling to not only rent, but to earn enough to qualify to rent in the first place.

    Charles Buchannon, Tenants and Homes For All Hot Line: If we're looking at the average person in St. Louis right now, they are not making $15 an hour. And then you're thinking, OK, now your rent has increased. Food went up, gas. You can't keep stretching your dollar.

  • Gabrielle Hays:

    Though a renter would need to make $16.66 to afford rent for a two-bedroom in 2021, Missouri's minimum wage remains at $11.15 an hour, something Buchanan says makes life harder for families.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That was the "NewsHour"'s Gabrielle Hays in St. Louis, Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado in Fresno, and Roby Chavez in New Orleans.

    We're going to be continuing to cover the problems around housing prices in the weeks and the months to come.

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