AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Mackayla McGregor was on her honeymoon in Florida when she learned that her rent would be increasing by over $200 a month next month.
A friend who had been checking on her apartment read her the note that had been placed on her door at the Westchester Square Apartments in Austintown from the Brookfall Group, the new company that recently took over management. It said her monthly rent would be increasing from $575 to $780. The letter cited that the adjustment was necessary due to the income and expenses of operating the property.
One of those expenses is property taxes. Nearly every property owner in the Valley was hit with new tax bills this year that reflect an increase after the real estate market took an unprecedented turn during the pandemic, pushing tax bills higher. In some cases, property owners saw a 30% increase in their property tax bill.
Now, McGregor, who is 22 years old, is looking for a new place that she can afford.
“I am beyond frustrated, mostly because I know there are low-income people that can barely afford rent as it is,” she said.
It may be a difficult task.
Over at the Hillbrook Apartments just five minutes away, resident Joshua Yohman is also dealing with a spike in rental costs.
When Yohman moved into the property three years ago, the cost of rent was $650 a month. But since moving in, the price of rent has spiked to $750, and he heard that it would be increasing again.
Yohman said he makes a decent salary, but with the increasing costs of food and gasoline, higher rent prices are just another challenge.
“I was shocked because we’re still going through the pandemic after the first raise, and everyone is going through hard times, and it seems like as soon as we get to the point where we’re at level ground and we’re able to make ends meet without having to go from paycheck to paycheck, they just raise our rent,” he said.
AIY Properties, which manages Yohman’s apartment complex and over 50 other residential rental properties, did not return several calls from WKBN for comment on the rent increase.
An employee of Westchester Square Apartments where McGregor lives said the company had no comment on their rent prices, saying if a resident had a concern, he or she should contact the office.
While it’s happening locally, rent prices are also increasing across the state.
Currently, rental prices are higher than in any year on record other than 2021, even when adjusted for inflation, according to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency’s 2023 Ohio Housing Needs Assessment. That report shows that more than 1 million Ohioans live in households that spend over half their income on housing costs. In addition, there are 447,717 “extremely low-income” renters in Ohio, but only 177,318 rental homes are affordable and available to them, the report states.
Rent.com, a website that lists available rental properties, has data that shows the climb in rental prices as well. The data is taken solely from rental properties advertised on the site, but Jon Leckie, a researcher for Rent.com, says it gives a good real-time look at what is happening across the state and country.
“In the United States, in general, rents are up a little over 15 percent over the last two years. You know, they were pretty steady there through 2019, and then as the pandemic hit, it took off pretty rapidly, so we’re up about 15.5 percent over that two-year period — that’s more than $275 added to monthly rent bills, and that’s a pretty significant increase,” Leckie said.
In the Youngstown area, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment has climbed from $804 in February 2019 to $940 in June of this year. While prices have fluctuated, this year has shown some of the highest rental costs.
Leckie said rental rates in the Youngstown area appear to be rising at a much faster rate than the rest of the nation.
“When we look at sort of a regional level, the Midwest is a place where rents are growing the fastest compared to the rest of the nation, and part of that is the price component, that the prices are lower in the Midwest than are, certainly, in some places like the Northeast, so they have a lot of room to grow,” he said.
The Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio also conducted a report, jointly with the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The coalitions found that full-time workers in Ohio now need to earn at least $19.09 an hour to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment.
Their 2023 Ohio Out of Reach report also found another issue: out of the 10 jobs with the most employees in Ohio, only three earn more than $19.09 – registered nurses, general operations managers and truck drivers.
Amy Riegel, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, said when people think of housing instability, they think of someone who is out of work or going through a tough time, and that’s just not the case anymore.
“So, the individuals who are really being impacted by this, I think it can be easy to dismiss this problem as, ‘Oh yeah, that’s always happened,’ or ‘It’s always been like that,’ but it’s not true now. This problem has intensified,” she said. “It’s affecting more and more people, and for more and more people, the pathway to moving out of housing insecurity is so steep that it feels impossible of moving out of.”
There are a few issues at play in the rising costs of rent.
Like most states, Ohio does not have rental control, so landlords are able to increase rent as much as they would like. In states that have rent control, or those that allow municipalities to enact rent-control measures, there may be caps on how much rent can be increased.
A shortage of affordable housing and higher interest rates have pushed more people into the rental market, Riegel said. She added that private investors are also buying up swaths of property in the state, creating fewer affordable options.
“Institutional investors are creating a significant problem within the state. Where they really focus is buying up single-family homes that are smaller sized, more moderately priced, so what they’re buying up are starter homes. So that first home that so many people would purchase in their life are no longer available in many communities across Ohio. And the institutional investors are buying up thousands of units in Ohio,” said Riegel.
It’s a problem that also caught the attention of Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who recently introduced a bill to crack down on corporate real estate buys.
The Stop Predatory Investing Act would prohibit an investor who acquires 50 or more single-family rental homes from deducting interest or depreciation on those properties.
According to Brown’s office, two big investors own more than 12,000 homes in just three Ohio markets, and other large investors don’t report how many homes they own.
“It undermines those communities. They’re not keeping the property up. They’re throwing renters out, and then they raise the price, and we want to stop them. It’s not a free market thing; it’s these companies are getting tax breaks to come up and buy homes, and ultimately what we want is, the best thing for these communities is that people own their own homes… to create wealth in their families,” Brown said.
There’s no good way to determine, across the board, where investors own properties. Ohio statute requires landlords with properties in counties with more than 200,000 residents to register their properties with that county auditor’s office. But from WKBN’s checks into the procedure, there appears to be no agency overseeing that registry, and many companies register each of their properties through separate LLCs — so it’s difficult to see just how many properties one company owns.
Riegel said having no statewide registry makes it harder to hold landlords accountable.
“Right now, one of the biggest issues is just being able to understand across the state what units are owned by the institutional investors and how fast and how quickly they’re buying up the properties,” Riegel said. “So just being able to understand the depth of the problem is an issue, and so that, through rental registries or other purchase-tracking systems is an opportunity that we have right now. And then as the investors who currently hold these properties, holding them accountable for the maintenance, the upkeep and the standards of this housing within our communities. If we do not allow them to suck all the equity out of these properties, it may make it less attractive for them to steal these properties from home buyers in our state.”
Riegel said while this is a problem that is not unique to Ohio, leaders here may be better equipped to deal with the current issues at hand.
“The place where we’re at right now in Ohio is a really important place because we have intensifying issues, but they’re still problems we can solve. They’re not to the point where it would take drastic measures,” she said. “We have solutions that we are aware of, and we have a problem that is within reach. So if we choose to act as a community now, we will be able to address the issue at hand. It is our failure to act that will lead us to a situation like those other states that we don’t want to model.”
Yohman, who said rent is becoming something that most Blue-collar people can’t afford anymore, said he hopes the industry takes another look at the issue.
“I would just hope that the corporations that own these properties take a look at the human side of things rather than the profits,” he said.
According to Andrew Neuhauser, managing attorney at Community Legal Aid, a landlord can raise rent by any amount after the term of a lease has expired — there is no limit. A landlord only has to provide at least 30 days’ notice before any rent increase, which can happen at the end of a year for a one-year lease or the end of the month in a month-to-month lease.
This is part of a series of stories that WKBN is looking into involving local housing issues in the Valley. Do you have a housing issue that you’d like us to look into? Send us your information here.