Oct 7, 2023 - Real Estate

Most D.C. young renters spend 30% of their income on rent

Illustration of two keys crossed over one another with a beam of light behind them

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Roommates and side gigs help D.C.-area Gen Zers offset the high cost of rent here.

Why it matters: Steep prices and mortgage rates pose seemingly insurmountable hurdles to homeownership — and renting isn't necessarily an affordable alternative.

Driving the news: One in three Gen Zers (34%) nationwide surveyed by Freddie Mac say owning a home feels impossible in their lifetime, up from 27% in 2019.

  • Saving for a down payment is the biggest obstacle, they say: It's one reason the typical U.S. first-time homebuyer last year was a record-high 36 years old, per the National Association of Realtors.
  • Of note: The shares are higher for Black (35%) and Hispanic (50%) respondents.

Zoom in: Gen Zer Maggie Brenan works in PR/comms. She spends 30% of her income on rent for her Arlington apartment.

  • With a roommate, no pets and recent career growth, the cost of living just outside of the District is "difficult, but it doesn't feel impossible," she says.
  • She wants to own someday, whether it be in the D.C. area or elsewhere, but thinks she'll be older than her parents were when they bought their first house at age 30.
  • Brenan plans to live solo soon, and there "will be some sacrifices budget-wise," she says.

Annie Culbertson, who works in fashion and has a blog and TikTok side hustle, spends 40-50% of her income on rent. She lives in Georgetown and has a roommate.

  • Only a year out of college, she says renting is the best option at the moment. "I would love to own down the road, once I'm feeling more financially stable," Culbertson says.
Share who spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing in the D.C. area, 2022
Data: Census Bureau; Note: Based on household income. Householder is the person/people in whose name the housing unit is owned or rented. Renter housing costs include monthly contract rent and utilities paid by the renter while owner costs include monthly mortgage payments and other debts, utilities, real estate taxes, insurance, etc.; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

Most of D.C.'s youngest renters are spending at least 30% of their income on rent, the latest U.S. census data show.

  • In all of the 100 biggest U.S. metros, over a third of 15- to 24-year-old householders who rent spend 30% or more of their income on housing, Axios' Simran Parwani reports.

What's happening: Across the U.S., pinched young people are fanning out from big cities, returning to their childhood bedrooms or moving in with partners.

  • Fannie Mae researchers found 30% of young workers are willing to live farther away from the office for more inexpensive housing.
  • Nearly a third of Gen Z adults say they're living at home long-term, The New York Times reports.

Zoom out: America's housing shortage has helped hike the cost of both buying and renting.

Yes, but: The vast majority of young renters are renting for lifestyle reasons, preferring the flexibility to move, RealPage chief economist Jay Parsons tells Axios.


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