Jun 21, 2023 - News

Des Moines' rent burdens reach worst point in a decade

Illustration of a house key attached to a ball and chain.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Nearly half of Des Moines metro renters are cost burdened, according to a report released Wednesday by the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) of Harvard University.

Why it matters: Spending so much money on housing can have a ripple effect, leaving less left over for necessities like food, clothing and health care.

State of play: Nationally, the percentage of cost-burdened renters is at an all-time high, driven by rising housing costs and pandemic-era income losses, according to The State of the Nation's Housing report.

  • Renters who spend 30% or more of their income on housing are defined as cost burdened, according to the report that examined rental and homeowner trends across the U.S. using census data.
  • Rent burdens make it more difficult to save money for a down payment, which is the largest barrier to homeownership, Alex Hermann, one of the report's authors, tells Axios.

Zoom in: Just over 46% of DSM metro renters — almost 39,000 people — were cost burdened in 2021, a 10-percentage point increase from pre-pandemic levels in 2019, according to the report.

  • Median renter household income in the metro was just over $41,000, according to the JCHS report.
  • Meanwhile, rent for a median two-bedroom was around $960 a month in February, according to rentals site Zumper.

What they're saying: Des Moines needs more affordable housing, Toby O'Berry, director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, tells Axios.

  • He points to the need for more initiatives like the new Iowa Thriving Communities program, which incentivizes communities and developers to pursue housing projects.
  • The housing fund, which advocates and helps plan affordable housing projects, estimates that Polk County needs 11,635 additional units for extremely low-income renters.
Data: Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies; Note: 2020 data omitted due to data collection issues experienced during the pandemic; Chart: Axios Visuals

Zoom out: Nationally, there were 21.6 million cost-burdened renters in 2021, according to the report.

  • Meanwhile, home ownership is also more expensive due partly to recent interest rate increases.
  • Millions of households are now priced out of homeownership, including a disproportionate share of people of color, according to the report.

Related story: Recent DSM home price by ZIP

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