Housing is a fundamental right, but the rental market doesn’t know that

Addie Adkins, Columnist

Until recent history, humans have been able to make shelter for themselves. We could settle in a land, build a house without restrictions and live off the land.

In this present world, homes and shelter are no longer guaranteed. Land must be purchased, a contractor hired, a building built, with each of these processes being expensive and heavily regulated by laws and ordinances.

Because some don’t have the means to build or purchase their own homes, a lot of people rent. According to a study done by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, 35.6% of Americans rent, with over one-third of renters being under the age of 35.

If you’ve ever rented, you know there is an application process with several minimum requirements to be met.

Having previously worked in property management, I’ve said these words to prospective renters many times: “You need to make three times the amount of rent per month, you need good credit and you need two years of acceptable rental history.”

Most college students are 18 or 19 years old and have never lived alone. This creates unique challenges for these students because they haven’t had time to establish credit and have certainly not established a rental history.

Because of this, some students aren’t able to rent without a cosigner and, sometimes, it prevents students from renting at all, either because the rental company doesn’t accept cosigners or because the student doesn’t have anyone willing to cosign the rental agreement with them.

Aside from credit and rental history, another challenge that students face is providing income verification. Most financial aid and student loan awards won’t get anywhere near meeting most income requirements.

There is also rental affordability to consider. A plague for any renter, market rent prices right now are downright stupid. A study produced by the National Low Income Housing Coalition lists the fair market rent of a one-bedroom rental at $1,286 per month and a two-bedroom at $1,584 per month.

According to my calculations, a minimum wage worker would need to work 66 hours per week in order to satisfy the common “gross monthly income of three times the amount of rent” requirement for a one-bedroom rental. This increases to a little over 81 hours per week for a two-bedroom rental.

Housing stressors negatively affect students’ studies. According to the US Housing Authority, challenges such as housing insecurity, living in poverty, lack of sufficient financial aid and living off-campus likely affect college completion rates, which are just above 50% at four-year institutions.

Adequate housing is a fundamental human right according to the United Nations. Yet, according to the US Housing Authority, in 2013 over 56,000 students indicated that they were experiencing homelessness. That’s 56,000 too many.

One problem aiding in student homelessness and rental affordability is the number of available rentals on the market. And unfortunately, the rental market in Washington has seen a decrease in vacancy rates over the years.

University of Washington reported a decrease from 4.7% to a 4.3% vacancy rate in spring of 2019. The decreasing vacancy rates in conjunction with increasing market rents and stagnant wages leads to a very sad story for a lot of people, but especially students.

A variety of issues have led to the lack of rental availability. Seemingly the biggest issue I see facing the rental market is the lack of concentration on building affordable rentals. All I see being built right now are either high-end rentals or high-end houses.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution. But a good start would be more university or college-provided student housing. If there were more rentals aimed directly towards students, some of the challenges facing students might be dodged.

Perhaps more difficult would be for rental companies to implement rental requirements that are more lenient and open up more opportunity to use cosigners.

But since rental companies work for investment owners and protect their interests over the interests of the renter, there’s a fat chance of that happening.