This weekend my mother-in-law hosted a cookout in honor of Independence Day. While the kids tried to convince the adults to go outside, the heat kept us firmly planted around the kitchen table.
My youngest sister-in-law is currently in grad school, so she used the opportunity to ask me some questions for a paper she has due soon. The first question from her mouth was: “what is the biggest need facing the community today?” Without missing a beat, temporarily leaving the conversation he was having with his brother, my husband interjected “housing.”
In the past year, the Social Work Department at Richland Library has seen a significant increase in requests for housing-related resources. For example, in 2019 we saw just over 500 individual people dealing with any kind of housing-related concern. In 2021, we saw over 2,500 people for any kind of housing-related resource.
These requests range from financial assistance like paying the deposit for a new apartment, to help looking at credit reports, to help finding “affordable” housing options. These requests also include paying past due rent, help finding an attorney to prepare for an eviction hearing, and help talking to a landlord about a payment plan. We have even spoken to landlords who are concerned about tenants and who want to help them seek assistance or learn the proper way to file an eviction.
Our customers in Richland County are not alone. Across the country and even globally, there is an affordable housing crisis.
Our customers in Richland County are not alone. Across the country and even globally, there is an affordable housing crisis. While I think “affordable” is a biased term, housing is typically considered affordable when it consumes less than 30% of your total household income. That is a very difficult metric to achieve, especially for renters who are subjected to fluctuations in rent prices, as well as lack of control over repairs and energy-efficient appliances. In fact, according to Forbes, “nearly half of the 43 million renter households in the U.S. are housing cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Severe cost-burdened renters are spending over half of their income on housing" (Sebastian Corradino, 2021).
As the number of people who are looking for housing assistance increases, we thought it would be nice to share a few tips for those who are looking at moving into new rental units:
1. Look at the property before you pay your deposit.
We have had this question a number of times lately. Yes, you should look at the property to make sure it looks as it was described. You should view it at various times of the day and night to get a good feel for how the traffic is when you need to leave for work or when you might be at home taking a mid-day nap.
2. Read your lease before you sign it.
Yes, sometimes those leases can be long and the feel difficult to understand, so ask questions. Make sure you know what you are agreeing to and what is your responsibility in maintaining your new home and what is your landlord's responsibility.
3. Be honest.
It's better to be up-front with your landlord about your past rental history, or anything else that you think might be concerning to them, than to have them find out when they are doing background searches. Be up-front and use the space allowed to discuss any credit issues, income concerns, or your eviction history.
4. Ask questions.
Talk to your landlord. Ask questions about the property, the community, the neighbors, and their expectations. Housing is one of your single biggest bills, so be comfortable with where you are spending most of your income and the place where you rest.
5. Don't wait.
The housing market is crowded, even for renters. If you need to move within a certain time frame, start looking now. This will give you time to get all of your paperwork in order, set aside money for your deposit and first month's rent, ask the landlord questions, view the property, and be able to make an informed decision on your move without feeling the pressure of losing out on good opportunities.
Richland Library is working towards helping our community access housing options that meet their needs. We host a monthly Ask An Attorney event where you can ask questions, as well as provide an affordable housing list, free to the community. If you are interested in learning more about these services, you can reach out to the Social Work Department at 803-509-8371 or by email at email@example.com.