If you are struggling to find housing affordable housing in the U.S., you are not alone. There is an affordable housing crisis in all 50 states now affecting not only refugees and other newcomers, but also United States citizens. In the U.S., affordable housing is defined as not paying more than 25% of your household income after taxes for your housing. However, many people, especially refugees and other newcomers are finding that they are paying as much as 40% or 50% of their post-tax earnings on housing.
Various factors contribute to high housing costs. The main factor is that rents are directly related to how many rentals units are available in an area versus the number of people searching for housing. If there are more people looking for rentals than the number of rental units available, rents increase.
Certain regions and cities in the United States have higher rents than others. If you plan to relocate from where you first settled, you should understand what to expect to pay for rent and be aware of the cost of living in a specific region. To find the average estimated cost of living (including rental housing) in every state, metro area, city, or county in the U.S., refer to this Living Wage Calculator created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: https://livingwage.mit.edu/
In 2023, the highest rents in the U.S. are in some big cities and their surrounding towns and suburbs. The area around New York City has the highest rents in the U.S. Across the U.S., Boston, Massachusetts, the Washington D.C. area, Denver, Colorado; Dallas, Texas; Seattle, Washington and Las Vegas, Nevada were among the cities within the top 100 highest average rents in 2023. California had almost 50 cities and towns in the top 100 most expensive cities to rent in 2022. These included Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Diego along with numerous smaller cities.
Rental markets change from year to year and there are always variations within cities, neighborhoods, towns, or counties. In 2023, the Northeast and West have some of the highest average rents in the U.S. Big cities in the South like Atlanta, Georgia; New Orleans, Louisiana; Nashville, Tennessee; Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale (Florida) also have high average rents. With the exception of Chicago, Illinois and Minneapolis, Minnesota, more affordable rents can be found in Midwest cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Toledo (Ohio); Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, and South Bend (Indiana); Peoria and Bloomington (Illinois); Green Bay and Milwaukee (Wisconsin); Des Moines, Iowa; and Louisville, Kentucky.
It's not easy to find affordable housing, but here are some tips:
- If possible, always keep your options open at your current living situation until you are sure you have secured a new rental. Paying your rent on time, following the rules written in your lease and keeping a good relationship with your landlord will make it easier for you to renew your lease if you cannot find new housing you can afford. This will also allow you to use your current landlord as a positive reference in new rental applications.
- Maintain a good credit score.
- Plan and dedicate time to your housing search using all resources, including your resettlement agency case worker, your sponsor, community groups and government agencies that are helping newcomers. Word of mouth is an especially good way to find leads. So, ask work colleagues, neighbors, friends, friend of friends, relatives, resettlement case workers—anyone you know—if they know of available (or soon to be available) rentals. Consistently search reputable websites like Trulia, Zillow, Realtor.com, Rent.com, Apartments.com, Hotpads, Airbnb, 4Stay, RentCafe.
- Be realistic in your search, calculating the maximum rent you can pay for the minimum number of bedrooms you need, and consider the cost of utilities you would be responsible for (like electricity, heat etc.). Landlords or rental management companies commonly require your monthly income before taxes be three times more than the monthly rent. You can calculate that amount. If your total household monthly income is $5000 before taxes, you would multiply that number by 0.33 which equals $1650. In this case, you should be looking for rentals that cost about $1650 per month.
- The rental market is competitive. If you find a suitable rental, have copies of the following documents ready right away to provide to a landlord or rental management company:
- Employer-provided pay verifications for the past two to three months for all working household members
- Copies of current bank statements (only showing the last four digits of the account)
- If possible, reference letters from previous landlords, employers or if applicable, your resettlement agency
- If applicable, documentation for any government or cash benefits
- If you don’t have a social security number, your I-94 and travelling papers
Disclaimer: This article was created in partnership with Refugee Housing Solutions. Refugee Housing Solutions is a project of Church World Service under an agreement paid for by the U.S. Department of State.