May 2022

Columbus is the 13th most affordable city for renters, study says

Courtesy of NBC4
By Maeve Walsh
May 25, 2022

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – While Columbus renters are dishing out more dollars toward their monthly rental payments, the grass may not be as green in other markets, a new study reports.

A recent report from Clever Real Estate positioned Columbus, when compared with 50 metro areas in the U.S., as the 13th most affordable city for renters when measuring the area’s average rent-to-income ratio.

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Using data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau, the study found that Columbus residents spend an average of 17.84% of their income on housing – well under the popular rule of thumb for renters to devote around 30% of their income on rental payments.

The No. 13 spot is not a surprise to Jon Melchi, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio, who said Midwestern cities like Columbus are generally prime locations for a diverse, more affordable supply of housing.

“Historically, the city of Columbus has embraced a diversity of housing in a way that some other communities have not,” Melchi said. “That’s been a challenge more recently, but on a historic level, we have a variety of different products which I think helps to meet the demand that’s in the community.”

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While Columbus trumps a majority of the 50 metro areas analyzed in the study, that doesn’t mean rental prices haven’t soared in recent years. The average 2022 rent for Columbus residents sits at $1,032 – a nearly 73% increase from rental prices in 2000.

Construction delays are at an all-time high across the country, contributing to a high demand for a limited supply of housing, according to Clever Real Estate. Nationwide, the study found that from 1985 to 2020, rent prices increased by 149%, whereas income grew by only 35%.

City Median Rent 2020 Median Income 2020 Rent-to-Income Ratio

Joe Motil, a long-time Columbus activist and Clintonville Area commissioner who said he’s will run for Columbus mayor in 2023, said the study doesn’t capture the entire story of renting in the city.

About 54,000 low- and middle-income Franklin County residents pay more than half of their income on rent, according to the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio, which he said is swept under the rug in the study.

“I think that what they reference in their study is also that of really middle-income white-collar workers and those that serve as the labor pool for corporate Columbus,” Motil said. “And I don’t think that, you know, that’s reflective in terms of the true housing needs for the Columbus and Franklin County area.”

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What the study fails to holistically illustrate, according to Columbus Urban League president Stephanie Hightower, is the challenges faced by many low-income Black and brown people in securing stable housing – and the couch surfers living at home with their families.

Many residents served by the Columbus Urban League, a nonprofit that aims to improve the economic and educational status of marginalized people, are also less likely to respond to or be accounted for in surveys.

Not only did the Pew Research Center find that Black adults were 13% less likely than their white counterparts to respond to the census, but the U.S. Census Bureau itself reported that the 2020 census overcounted white adults by nearly 2% and undercounted Black by nearly 3% and Hispanics by nearly 5%.

“If we really did have an opportunity to survey different families in the urban core, I think we would find that that number would be even higher,” Hightower said.

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While Melchi said the 54,000 people paying 50% or more of their annual income on rent is too high a number, he said rent prices are soaring across the country, not just in Columbus.

Building more housing at all price points, he said, is key to keeping the area affordable. The central Ohio region gains about 70 new residents each day, yet construction is not keeping up with the housing demand, he said.

Melchi told NBC4 in April that the region needs between 14,000 and 17,000 housing units each year, but in 2020, only about 10,800 units were built – a deficit that he said must be reversed in order to keep options affordable and continue attracting more people to the region.

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“What we have in Columbus has always been a competitive advantage in terms of the amenities that are offered throughout the region and relative affordability for individuals and families who want to be in this region,” he said. “I think that’s why we’ve seen population continue to increase in this area.”

Erin Prosser, assistant director of housing strategies for the city of Columbus, said the metro area is indeed affordable, relative to other cities. But the region could be headed toward a housing shortage, she said, as Columbus only builds one house for every two-and-a-half jobs brought into the region.

“We as a community will need to build the housing infrastructure to support our growing region, invest in affordable housing for families, preserve the existing affordability we have, and most importantly, include all our residents in our prosperity,” Prosser said in an email.

City Median Rent 2020 Median Income 2020 Rent-to-Income Ratio

“What those areas all have in common is that they’re very difficult to build and develop housing,” he said. “And I think that’s, again, a cautionary tale for us in central Ohio.”

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