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Here’s how much rent burdens could increase in the Boston area due to coronavirus

Unemployment and income loss will cause more households to spend more of their income on rent, new figures show—and higher earners might feel it the most

The exteriors of a row of close-together apartment buildings. Shutterstock

The novel coronavirus pandemic has made it that much more difficult to rent in a Boston-area apartment market that was already one of the most expensive and most competitive in the U. S. The pandemic has done this mostly through causing a cascade of job losses and losses in income, which has made making the rent much tougher for many tenants.

A new report from listings and research site Zillow gauges just how much tougher things have gotten for tenants—and can get. Separate figures that Zillow provided to Curbed Boston analyzed how a short-term loss of income could affect renters’ finances in Greater Boston in particular, and what effect the $2 trillion federal coronavirus stimulus—the CARES Act—could have on housing affordability for workers in the area who rent.

The figures basically show the rent burden—the share of household income spent on rent—rising for both single-earner and multi-earner renter households as time goes on, with government help mitigating things a bit. Here’s the breakdown for a single-earner renter household in the Boston area, according to Zillow:

  • The status quo rent burden is 30 percent of the annual income, leaving $32,421 after paying rent.
  • Being out of work for two weeks raises the rent burden to 31.1 percent, and decreases the remaining income to $30,573.
  • Two months out of work raises the rent burden to 35.7 percent, leaving $24,600 after paying rent.
  • Two months out of work, and with assistance from the CARES Act, brings the rent burden to 34.7 percent with $26,280 left over.

And here’s the breakdown for households where there’s more than one breadwinner:

  • The status quo rent burden is 21.9 percent of the annual income, leaving $63,609 after paying rent.
  • Being out of work for two weeks raises the rent burden to 22.8 percent, and decreases the remaining income to $60,480.
  • Two months out of work raises the rent burden to 26.1 percent, leaving $50,504 after paying rent.
  • Two months out of work, and with the CARES Act, brings the rent burden to 24.9 percent with $53,160 left over.

If there’s any silver lining for Greater Boston tenants, it’s that renter households here tend to pull in more in income than their counterparts nationwide. According to Zillow, single-earner households in the area have the fifth-highest income among major metros nationwide, and multi-earner households have the fourth-highest.

Still, the Zillow figures put into stark relief how rent burdens could rise—and how fast—in the region even for higher earners, said Alexander Casey, senior policy adviser for the Seattle-based site. After all, apartment rents do not appear to be coming down, even in the face of the pandemic.

“A loss of work in a household—especially in Boston, where you have high rent costs but also high incomes—those high incomes can sometimes help cushion the blow of those high rent burdens and maintain the status quo,” Casey said, “but when those incomes dry up, that’s when you really can see things shifting quickly.”