‘The rent’s too high!’

Published 9:28 pm Friday, November 12, 2010

A house for rent in a neighborhood of East Washington Street has a for-rent sign on Friday. Most Suffolk renters have their housing costs under control, according to a study.

While the depressed housing market has reduced the cost of buying a house in Virginia during the past three years, the cost of renting has gone up, new housing statistics show.

The numbers were released Tuesday by Housing Virginia, which conducts its research in conjunction with the Virginia Association of Realtors and the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech. The statistics are available online in an analytical tool called the Sourcebook.

“It’s a complex situation,” said Neal Barber, a contractor with Housing Virginia. “Housing overall has gotten considerably more affordable since 2007, with housing prices declining significantly.”

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In Suffolk, owners in lower income brackets are using too much of their income for housing, according to the statistics. Generally, people should not use more than 30 percent of their income for housing, including mortgage or rent and related costs like utilities.

Suffolk households that make $35,985 a year — a number pinpointed as 60 percent of the area’s median income — are using almost half of their income for housing they own and about 28 percent for places they rent.

Statewide, renters are paying far more.

“Rental housing typically has gotten less affordable, because rental prices have continued to go up a little bit over the years,” he said. In addition, the average income of people who rent has “gone down a little bit.”

In 2008, nearly 9,000 households in Suffolk had incomes at or below 60 percent of the median.

Statistics also show an increasing number of Suffolk households are paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing — a contingent typically known as “cost-burdened” or “house-poor.”

In 2008, nearly 40 percent of Suffolk households were cost-burdened for housing.

Not surprisingly, households that make more are less likely to be cost-burdened for housing. About 90 percent of renters who make less than $20,000 are cost-burdened, but only 5 percent of renters who make $75,000 or more are using too much of their income on housing.

“For lower-income households, typical housing is much less affordable than when you get up around median family income,” Barber said.

Housing Virginia hopes the statistics will be a decision-making tool for private, non-profit and public sectors alike.

“Finally, we will all have a common source of data sets that will enable us to have a common point of departure for the incredibly important conversations we need to have regionally and as a state regarding issues such as housing, land use, economic development,” said Laura Lafayette, vice chair of Housing Virginia.

To view the full set of statistics, visit www.housingvirginia.org.