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Data: Zillow; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Americans who feel priced out of the surging housing market have until now been able to take solace in one thing: if they can't buy, at least they can rent. But that might be changing.

Why it matters: Rents have been growing fast enough to keep investors happy in the face of a major pandemic, but not — yet — so much as to become unaffordable. Rent increases average about 2.5% per year in multifamily units, per Yardi Matrix, while Zillow shows rents nationally up 1.5% from a year ago.

By the numbers: Big cities continue to do the best at keeping rent increases low or even negative. Over the past two years, rents in New York have declined by 9.3% to $2,530 per month on average, while San Francisco is down 9% to $2,878.

  • Even cities with major housing booms have seen relatively small rent increases. Austin rents are up 2.5% to $1,489 over the past two years, per Zillow, even as its house prices have risen 30.6%; Los Angeles rents are up 1.7% while its home prices have risen 16.5%.

Yes, but: The era of subdued rent increases might be coming to an end. Realtor.com's May rental report shows rents up 7.5% over the past two years, and accelerating rapidly, with larger homes increasing at a faster pace than smaller apartments.

  • That suggests the other shoe dropping — higher house prices finally showing up in higher rents as of May.

The bottom line: The dire housing shortage will inevitably be felt in rental prices, even if house prices are more volatile. But with houses starting to get out of reach, renting is likely to remain the cheaper option in many big markets for the foreseeable future.

Go deeper

The crazy spike in Tampa Bay home prices, mapped

Expand chart
Data: Zillow; Map: Sara Wise/Axios

We're living in a whole new world of home values here in Tampa Bay.

What's happening: In the last five years, average home prices in some areas around our area have gone up as much as 210%, according to data from Zillow.

Updated 2 hours ago - Sports

U.S. Olympic beach volleyball duo one step away from realizing gold medal dream

April Ross and Alix Klineman of Team USA celebrate after the play against Team Cuba during the Women's Round of 16 beach volleyball on day ten of the Tokyo Games. Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Alix Klineman and April Ross are guaranteed to earn at least an Olympic silver medal after defeating Switzerland 2-0 in the Tokyo Games on Thursday morning local time.

Of note: It's the latest chapter in an enduring partnership, driven by past failures and bound by future aspirations.

4 hours ago - Health

World surpasses 200 million COVID cases

A woman in Gurugram, India get a COVID-19 vaccine dose. Photo: Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The number of COVID-19 infections worldwide topped 200 million on Wednesday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Why it matters: The milestone highlights the effect of the highly contagious Delta variant. It took about a year for the world to reach 100 million cases, and only six months to double that, the New York Times reported.