Low-End Rental Housing

September 2005 / Abell-Supported Research / Community Development

The forgotten story in Baltimore’s housing boom.

Recent headlines in the Baltimore Sun proclaim that “real estate’s rising tide” has hit Baltimore’s home prices. At the opposite end of the city’s housing market are an estimated 40,000 low-income renters who cannot afford even the modest rents on their dwellings, live in substandard housing, or both, and nearly 20,000 substandard units renting for less than the median rent. Even a sustained, geographically widespread surge in residential sales will not address the serious problems in the low-end rental market, except possibly in the very long run. These problems are wide-ranging.

Half of all rental units in Baltimore rent for less than $400 a month and only 15 percent rent for more than $600. Low rents threaten the soundness of the stock and a healthful living environment for tenants. But because so many renters are poor, with half having incomes below $20,000, even these low rents are unaffordable to many. Renters are also getting poorer, with their median incomes dropping, in real terms, between 1990 and 2000. There are about two poor renters for every affordable housing unit in the city, and more than 16,000 households are on the waiting list for assisted housing. Nearly half of renter households with children are paying more than 30 percent of their income for rent, yet more than 40 percent of them are living in physically inadequate housing. More than one-third of the rental stock in Baltimore does not meet basic housing codes of physical adequacy. And with a rate of physical deficiencies 50 percent higher than that for the surrounding metropolitan area, Baltimore’s rental “bargains” are not luring residents from the region to relocate in the city. Many of these problems are related to the aging housing stock. In 2000, the median age of housing in the U.S. was 30-something; in central cities, it was 40-something; and in Baltimore, it was 50-something.