Alyce Banks, 48, lives in North Jackson with her adult son. She pays the LLC that owns her 2,000-square-foot ranch style about $1,400 a month, excluding utilities. As a single nurse, she says the price puts a huge dent in her monthly finances, even with her son contributing to the rent and electricity. But less expensive apartment living, she said, is simply not an option for the two.
“We don’t want any more apartments. Not after what we just left,” she told BGX. “I mean, we could find a house somewhere else for less, but you wouldn’t want to live there. This is (costs) a lot, but anything cheaper is a mess. This place doesn’t leak, and it’s in a good neighborhood. We’ve never been robbed or anything.”
The LLC renting to Banks renovated the building last year after considerable damage from the last tenants. Ten years prior to that, the building was a traditionally mortgaged home before the occupants moved out of town. They sold it to the LLC after failing to successfully rent the building themselves. “Land lording,” they said, wasn’t their thing, especially with fulltime monitoring and upkeep.
Banks is one of the lucky tenants. Her adult son requires no childcare, braces, or extracurricular activities. This isn’t the case for many young families in Mississippi and elsewhere. Despite inflation slowing down from a painful, post-Covid high, many nonwhite Americans are still struggling with unrealistic rental prices, and fewer home options, according to data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, released in January. The report shows roughly half of U.S. renters—a record high 22.4 million households were funneling more than 30% of their income on rent in 2022, leaving less money for important basics, including transportation, daycare, health, and education. The same report noted that even as home prices leveled off somewhat in the last year, the percentage of affordable units under $600 dropped over the last decade from nearly 10 million to slightly more than 7 million in 2022.
We could find a house somewhere else for less, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
Rent growth has almost completely stopped in professionally managed apartments. But the slowdown is not exactly an improvement. Asking rents were still stubbornly well above pre-pandemic levels, keeping pressure on low-income households.
“Among cost-burdened households, 12.1 million had housing costs that consumed more than half of their income, an all-time high for severe burdens. As a result, the share of cost-burdened renters rose to 50 percent, up 3.2 percentage points from 2019,” the report states.
Jackson apartment realtor and broker Dallis Ketchum rents homes and duplexes in Jackson’s picturesque Belhaven neighborhood. The price of one of his duplexes has doubled from $740 in nearly two decades. He does not attribute these increases to higher property taxes or utilities specifically, but a combination of market forces.
“It’s just inflation,” Ketchum said. “It’s everything going up. All the time.”
High prices are a monthly burden for one Jackson resident who withheld her name because she works for the city. She says she labors to maintain $1,400 in monthly rent for a two-bedroom north Jackson apartment for herself and her two teen children. But she said she refuses more economical options because of the steep trade-offs.
“We just left one place with a leaking roof that never got fixed,” said the recent divorcee. “And those other places—the neighborhoods—they just aren’t as safe.”
Since 2019, cost-burden shares have risen the most for middle-income renter households earning $30,000 to $44,999 a year or $45,000 to $74,999 a year. Higher-income households also saw their burden rate increase by 2.2 percentage points. None of this is helped by a dwindling supply of low-rent units, a holdover from the pandemic years when more than half a million low-rent units vanished between 2019 and 2022.
The combination of a lopsided economic recovery and the loss of low rent options aggravates a “decades-long challenge for renters” as rising rent outpaces tiny income gains. Median rents have risen steadily since 2001 to a 21 percent high in 2022, but renters’ incomes have climbed just 2 percent during the same period.
The results are evident in eviction filings. Last July, Legal Services Corporation recorded more than 2,600 eviction filings and defaults in Georgia’s Clayton County, near Atlanta. Clayton County has a poverty rate of 16 percent, but more than 50 percent of its population is “rent burdened,” despite Zillow reporting rental median price relatively stable in Atlanta and about $150 less than it was at this time last year. Rent in New York City, for that matter, is only about $100 more than it was last year according to Zillow, while Chicago is seeing a rent increase of only $30 more than it was last year. Renters say that relative stability means little if the numbers started out high, however.
Median rent prices in Atlanta—however stable—is still $2,000, as is rent in Chicago. And those “stable” New York prices are a whopping $3,425, on average (and good luck finding one bigger than a broom closet). Rental prices in the largely rural state of Mississippi can vary greatly, but an area with good schools and amenities averages more than $2,000. Rent in north Jackson is $100 less than it was last year, but that’s down from an average high of $1,600. For that price, a new tenant gets to live in a city with a history of water problems, a state governor intent on investing state resources everywhere but here, and schools with a 20% percent millage higher than other state school districts.
The city of Jackson announced a plan last month to help move renters into affordable home mortgages with the help of the Mississippi Manufactured Housing Association, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, and Freedom Homes. In many cases, the same amount of money per month in rent could deliver even more space and a backyard under a mortgage, if only renters could navigate the flaming hoops and credit checks of the mortgage process.
With rent prices stubbornly high and unjustifiable, however, Banks said she does not plan to occupy her current home for longer than another year, depending on what her son does and market changes.
“This place is safe, but there’s no way it should cost this much, not for this [size], not in Mississippi,” she said.