The pandemic-fueled, single-family housing frenzy may be cooling down a bit, but it seems Cincinnati rents haven't reached their limits yet.
According to a Sept. 15 report from Rent.com, Cincinnati is one of the top-10 U.S. cities with the biggest year-over-year average rent increase for August. Moreover, that spike is being felt by renters of both one-bedroom and two-bedroom units.
The average monthly rental cost of a one-bedroom unit in the Queen City is $1,283, an increase of 26.32% since August 2021, the report says. Meanwhile, monthly rent for a two-bedroom unit here is $1,537, a spike of 28.13%.
Cincinnati isn't the only Ohio city to see rent inflation. Over the last year, Toledo's average monthly one-bedroom rent increased by 22.52% (to $869 per month), and Columbus' went up by 4.76% ($1,422), according to Rent.com's data. But Cleveland has had one of the biggest year-over-year rent decreases in the country for one-bedroom units, going down 18.97% over the last year ($1,141).
In contrast, rates for two-bedroom units in other Ohio cities seem to be decreasing or stagnating even as Cincinnati's continue to rise. Cleveland's two-bedrooms decreased by 11.26% ($1,754) and Toledo's by 0.14% ($918). Columbus saw a slight increase of 0.46% ($1,643).
Ohio is experiencing its own statewide spike. Average rents throughout the Buckeye State increased by 49.69%, from $633 per month in August 2021 to $948 last month for a one-bedroom. The jump for a two-bedroom in Ohio isn't quite as large – 22.69%, or an average of $1,038 per month last year to $1,253 in August.
Nationally, the average one-bedroom monthly rent is $1,721, an increase of 27.13%. Two-bedroom units average $2,052 per month, up by 23.43%. Cincinnati's 28.13% year-over-year spike for two-bedrooms is larger than the national increase.
Rent.com says its findings are based on data from its multi-family rental inventory. Other rental and real estate platforms use different inventories, classifications, timeframes and data, but they paint a general picture of overall increases in average monthly rent compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Affordability in questionNationally and locally, monthly rental rates have increased as wages largely have stagnated, which means that people are paying a larger portion of rent from the same (or lower) paycheck. According to Realtor.com, the average monthly rent burden in Cincinnati in August of this year for anything from a studio to a two-bedroom apartment is 21.3%. That's up from a 20.2% rent burden at the same time last year.
For decades, financial websites have suggested that most renters keep their rent burden to no more than 30% of their gross income. According to a hypothetical from NerdWallet, "if you earn $2,800 per month before taxes, you should spend about $840 per month on rent." NerdWallet notes that major cities and hot markets may demand a higher rent burden or special considerations, plus renters may have additional needs that eat up their paycheck, such as student loans or car payments.
Ohio's average two-bedroom monthly rent is $1,253, according to Rent.com. But a July 28 article from Bloomberg shows that a worker in Ohio would have to make $17.05 per hour to afford that average rent. Bloomberg goes on to say, "In every state in the U.S., the cost to rent a home exceeds their minimum wage."
According to a calculator from MIT, a single Ohio resident with no children would need to be paid $15.61 per hour to be earning a living wage (the minimum income to meet a person's basic daily needs).
But Ohio's minimum wage is just $9.30 per hour. Federal minimum wage is just $7.25 and has been the same since 2009.
In March, the 2022 Demographia International Housing Affordability Index from the Urban Reform Institute and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy found that Cincinnati had the 9th-most affordable housing market as of the third quarter of 2021 after comparing 92 major markets in eight countries.
But the report considered housing to be "affordable" when its median multiple was at or below 3.0 (the median multiple is "a price-to-income ratio, which is the median house price divided by the gross median household income," the report noted). Cincinnati's median multiple in that report was 3.8, which was classified as "moderately unaffordable" – the only reason Cincinnati ranked in the top 10 of affordability was because other cities were much worse. Pittsburgh was the only city under the "affordable" 3.0 threshold for that time period.
"In a well-functioning market, the median priced house should be affordable to a large portion of middle-income households, as was overwhelmingly the case a few decades ago," the report asserted.
The index was ranked primarily on income in relation to housing prices, a situation that started becoming unsustainable several years back and has worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020. And the Urban Reform Institute and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy said in March that the crisis wasn't over.
"The number of severely unaffordable markets rose 60% in 2021 compared to 2019, the last pre-pandemic year," the report said.
In 2019, the United States had 14 severely unaffordable housing markets; that number jumped to 27 in 2021. The report added that the combination of high-income shoppers buying larger houses further from urban cores due to working from home during the COVID years plus supply-chain issues that slowed the construction of new housing have contributed heavily to the disruption in affordability.
During the June 19 episode of HBO's Last Week Tonight, comedian and host John Oliver noted that Cincinnati experienced a rent hike of 30% during the previous month, meaning that many residents were priced out of their homes.
"With rents being squeezed across the board, and protections few and far between, lower-income renters are, obviously, the most vulnerable," Oliver said. "Even before the [COVID-19] pandemic struck, 23 million people lived in households that paid more than half their income on rent and utilities, which is just not sustainable for anyone."