Renters continue to get priced out with few affordable options: 'It's a struggle.'

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Friday, December 9, 2022
Renters continue to get priced out with few affordable options
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Many advocates said one factor in the wait list for apartments--is fewer landlords are accepting government housing vouchers.

When Pete and Marian Rothman made the decision to leave their family behind in New Jersey and move to North Carolina, lower rent was one of the main factors.

"It was $1,400 a month when we lived up there and then we came here and it was like $700," Pete Rothman said. "It was like, 'Oh, everybody should come down here, it's much cheaper!'"

That was seven years ago. Since then, rent has only gone up. This fall they found out their Fayetteville apartment complex was raising rent by $400 a month.

"I almost hit the floor," Pete Rothman said when he got the estimate. "I almost punched the wall. Are you kidding me?"

"I thought they were joking," Marian Rothman remembered.

The couple is elderly, disabled and on a fixed income, so the anticipated $4,800 increase in rent next year will have a big impact.

"We're just about skimmed at level with our budget," Marian Rothman said. "It's a struggle because it's not just rent. It's everything else that went up."

The couple said they are fearful of the finances over the next year but don't have many options but to pay.

"We're like, where do we go from here? Build a trees tree house somewhere?" Marian Rothman said. "It's pretty bad."

Their story is just one shared by thousands of renters across North Carolina.

"Even when folks are doing the exact right thing and everything that they can think of, they're still being forced into opportunities that don't allow for stable and affordable housing," said Drew Woten, the executive director of Open Table Ministry.

Woten's organization provides shelter and assistance for people in Durham who are experiencing homelessness. He said that number continues to climb.

"We're seeing folks who are experiencing homelessness for the first time later on in life because they're just getting priced out of their apartment or their landlord is no longer going to renew their lease and it's going to get torn down," Woten said. "So folks are facing homelessness just in different ways than what we've seen."

And it is not just in Durham.

The Orange County Housing Authority reported a 42% increase in individuals experiencing homelessness between 2021 and 2020.

Data from the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness found 75% of the people entering shelter and housing programs are experiencing homelessness for the first time.

"People are coming into really unique situations and facing circumstances that we haven't really seen before where folks are getting housing vouchers but are still unable to find a place that is going to accept that voucher," Woten said.

It is taking individuals with a housing voucher in Orange County an average of 109 days to find a lease, according to data from the Orange County Housing Department.

In Wake County, people are also waiting nearly three months and has increased by 10 days between 2020 and 2021, according to data provided by the Raleigh-Wake Partnership to End Homelessness.

Many advocates said one factor in the wait is that fewer landlords are accepting government housing vouchers. More than 4,600 vouchers were issued in North Carolina in September, a 59% increase from September 2019, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Vouchers are often one of the only options for people as many of the local housing authorities report years-long waitlists.

The Wake County Housing Authority said they only have three units available with 239 people on their waitlist. The average wait in Wake County is 3-4 years. This leaves people forced to pay high prices or living on the street or in shelters.

Open Table Ministry offers congregate shelter during the winter and is working with the city of Durham this year to expand.

"With our community partners, and with our donors and with our volunteers, I'm confident that we'll be able to face the need," Woten said. "We never liked to see the need increasing. Unfortunately, that is the reality where we are in."

He said to fix the problem in the long-term it is going to take a lot of collaboration.

"It's going to take private landlords and big units and complexes that are going to be able to work with us in order to solve a very complex and nuanced issue," Woten said. "That's going to require a lot of a lot of innovation and a lot of ingenuity in order for us to serve our community and to get folks into those affordable and safe and long-term housing options."

As communities work to figure out the best way to establish those connections, renters like the Rothmans continue to struggle to stay afloat.

"We don't want to be one of those poor people sitting out there with a sign saying work for food or help I'm a veteran, I lost my home," Pete Rothman said.

"Nobody wants that," Marian Rothman echoed.

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