- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The number of seniors paying unaffordable rent in New Orleans rose by nearly 10 percent over the last decade - the second-largest spike of any metro area in the United States, according to a national campaign advocating for renters.

Washington, D.C.-based Make Room released its findings Monday as part of a nationwide campaign.

More than one-third of senior renters in the New Orleans-Metairie area now pay more than half their income in rent each month, the firm reported.

The percent of senior renters severely rent burdened increased from 25 percent in 2005 to 34.8 percent in 2014. That’s a 9.8 percent difference.

Monika Gerhart-Hambrick, director of policy and communications at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, said Make Room’s findings are consistent with what their organization has seen.

“New Orleans, generally, is facing an (rent) affordability crisis,” she said. “And this is a city with a majority of renters.”

About 60 percent of renters in New Orleans are rent burdened, which means more than 30 percent of their income goes toward rent and utilities. And more than one-third of renters overall are severely rent burdened, which means they are paying more than 50 percent of their income toward rent and utilities.

“That leaves little else for education, transportation, groceries or other necessities,” she said. “Unaffordable rent, coupled with substandard living conditions, could jeopardize the retirement security of New Orleanians, including the ability of our elderly to stay in the homes they currently have.”

Gerhart-Hambrick said this is particularly alarming because the city is experiencing an “elder boom.” By 2020, the increase in senior households will surpass all other household types, she said.

She said the city needs to use “all of the tools in the toolbox” to rectify the situation.

She added that this can be better achieved by using building policies that incentivize affordability, making better use of publicly held land and vacant property in high opportunity neighborhoods, ensuring that city investments promote equity rather than displacement and using the housing trust fund solely for housing.

These concerns are mirrored in several metropolitan cities across the United States.

Nationwide, the analysis showed that the number of senior households paying unaffordable rent has outpaced the growth in the senior population completely.

From 2005-2014, the overall population of seniors age 65 and up increased by 25 percent nationwide, from 22.5 million to 28.1 million. In addition, the amount of seniors paying more than half of their household income toward rent and utilities jumped by 34 percent, from 1.4 million to 1.8 million.

Angela Boyd, managing director of Make Room, said the significant increase in the number of seniors paying unaffordable rent is staggering.

“Rising, unaffordable rents are jeopardizing older Americans’ retirement security, including the ability to stay in their homes and communities, and to afford health care and medicine,” Boyd said.

Make Room suggests the sharp increase portrays the need to take seniors into account in policy discussions around addressing the lack of affordable rental homes.

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