Rent or Paying for Life’s Necessities

December 2, 2020

It caught my eye recently that many people must choose every month between making the rent or paying for life’s necessities in Philadelphia. Those families aren’t homeless — not yet, anyway. The official name for their situation is “cost-burdened.”

Nationally, the share of renters who are cost-burdened increased slightly from 49.5 percent in 2017 to 49.7 percent in 2018. This represents the first time that the national cost burden rate has increased since 2014. In Delaware, 58.8% of renters are considered cost-burdened.

Rent or Paying for Life’s Necessities

The adults often have jobs but don’t earn enough money to reliably cover their expenses., Low-wage workers end up devoting a substantial portion of their paycheck to housing and utilities, far above the federal government’s recommended 30%. If anything major goes wrong — from a flat tire to a Covid health crisis — those families risk being evicted for not paying their rent.

In the US, Stout and the NCCRC analyzed census survey results and income data to create their eviction tracker. Of the 44 million U.S. renter households, 17.3 million cannot pay rent and risk eviction, the tracker estimates. That number is equal to 40% of all renters. The unprecedented amount of back rent is $21.5 billion. The total back rent is “catastrophic,” said Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi. Very few people will be able to pay this back.

Evictions On the Horizon

Unless Congress does something, come December 31st, the moratorium on evictions will end.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, “Experts who specialize in housing policy have begun to talk with increasing excitement about a way that President-elect Joe Biden could help which he put forward in his campaign platform. Under his proposal, every cost-burdened, low-income family would receive a check to bridge the gap between their actual rent and the rent they can afford. The impact would be immediate.”

“It would be like food stamps, but for housing,” explained Anne Fadullon, who directs Philadelphia’s Department of Planning and Development and is a fan of the proposal. “If you qualify, you get it.”

What are the Causes?

The World Economic Forum says there are many causes besides cost-burdened for the homeless problem. For example:

  • A lack of affordable housing
  • Poverty and unemployment
  • Leaving prison, care, or the armed forces with no stable home to go to
  • Escape from a violent relationship or abusive childhood home
  • Relationship breakdown
  • Mental or physical health problems
  • Substance misuse and other addictive behaviors

This means there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and the answer to one person’s problems might only offer temporary respite for another. I wish I had a solution.

Jane Perillo

2700 Kirkwood Highway

Newark, DE 19711
(302) 995-2535

(302) 995-2550 fax

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