ST. LOUIS — Renting a home in St. Louis is beyond tough. Inflation has made the situation much grimmer as rent is rising four times faster than income. And for many people in the St. Louis area, that means people who make low wages are likely doing things they do not want to do in order to have a roof over their heads.
“It was super hard,” said Lisa Jackson, a bus driver who lives in the Normandy Schools Collaborative District.
She moved into her three-bedroom home back in the summer, but it was already the second time she had moved in five years. She had been on a year-long waitlist for a rental, but she couldn’t fathom waiting for an entire year.
Luckily, her sister tipped her off on a vacancy right next door. Now, she’s in a home, but it comes at a price. She pays roughly $750 for rent, but she has already dealt with flooding in the basement and replacing lead pipes that made the water dangerously undesirable. She says her landlord is okay, but it certainly beats the alternative.
Jackson says many people she knows either live with other families or live in their cars.
It’s a pretty common sight for Chris Krehmeyer, who is the CEO of Beyond Housing, an organization that helps low-income families find housing and beyond.
“There's a great unmet need of people needing a decent, safe and affordable place to live,” said Krehmeyer. “And the availability of it -- not only in St. Louis but all across the country.”
Beyond Housing is a non-profit that rents out 500 homes mostly within Jackson’s neighborhood. If you drive around the area, anything that looks new is likely a home that Beyond Housing built. The organization also helps bring a better quality of life to the area. It runs a movie theater and is part of a shopping center that also houses a grocery store for the community.
“The past several years, our vacancy rate has almost been zero,” said Krehmeyer. He says he typically gets hundreds of calls a month inquiring about rentals.
Low inventory, landlords charging higher rates and fees, inflation, plus low wages all add fuel to the fire. Do the math on a $15-an-hour job, and you’ll see why it’s so hard to afford housing in the city. If the cost of housing is nearly half your take-home pay, it leaves little for food, childcare, utilities or transportation – basic things people need to make ends meet.
“So your net is, $26,000 divided by 12,” said Krehmeyer. “You got a little more than $2,000 a month for everything. The math just doesn't make any sense.”
When Krehmeyer turns down a caller, he often recommends they call the United Way, A Red Circle or the Missouri Housing Development Commission. He says these groups are tasked with finding a housing solution, but they often share similar challenges.
By the end of the year, Beyond Housing is expected to start building 36 homes thanks to state tax credits, but it will only put a small dent in the problem. Ultimately, he says there have to be people ready to invest in housing and address the root of the problem.
“The idea of a living wage is you can forge a good life for yourself,” said Krehmeyer. “We don't have a real living wage in this country and in the St. Louis region.”