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Nearly half of D.C.-area renter households ‘cost-burdened,’ report says

Blame supply and demand—or the number of affluent tenants in the Washington metro region

A line of apartment houses converging on a street corner. Shutterstock

Nearly half of D.C.-area renter households in 2018 spent at least 30 percent of their income on housing, according to a report from listings and research site Apartment List.

The exact share of 47.5 percent represented a slight increase from 2017’s 47.1 percent, and is in line with the overall 49.7 percent of renter households nationwide that were cost-burdened last year—or spending 30 percent or more of income on housing.

What’s more, a further 23.1 percent of D.C.-area renter households were severely cost-burdened, meaning they spent at least half their household income on housing.

And the burden is not only falling on the less affluent, as the Apartment List analysis makes clear. In several prominent metros—Washington included—the median renter household income does not allow very many households to pay under 30 percent of their income on housing.

The study pegged the median renter household income at $65,569 in 2018, adjusted for inflation and based on census data. The median D.C.-area rent was $1,670, again adjusted for inflation.

“In spite of a low unemployment rate and increasing wages, virtually half of American renter households struggle with their housing costs,” Chris Salviati, a housing economist at Apartment List, wrote in the report. “Although the rate is still well below its 2011 peak, that improvement has been primarily driven by compositional changes in the rental market, namely, an influx of high-income renter households.”

The D.C. region has a significant share of such tenants. A report from February 2019 concluded that 13.9 percent of area renters pulled in at least $150,000 a year.

“Housing costs,” Salviati wrote, “have amplified growing economic inequality in recent years—those at the low-end of the income distribution have seen their housing costs grow disproportionately fast, while the highest earners have actually seen their housing costs fall.”