median rent, rental vacancy rate, rental housing burden, rental occupancy rate
Rental housing refers to all housing units which are not owner-occupied and suitable to be rented out for occupation. In the SouthCoast, these housing units vary in type and include large structures sub-divided into multiple units, entire structures rented as a single unit (home rentals), mobile homes, and even RVs. In New Bedford and Fall River, where the majority of housing structures were constructed before 1939, the average number of rental units per building is 2-4. This is expected in areas were the 3 and 4 family tenement-style is still a very prominent aspect of the housing landscape.
Why does rental housing matter?
Renters represent a diverse section of the population. Rental housing is typically occupied by those in a transitional period in their lives and the majority of renters view their housing choice as a stepping stone towards home ownership. According to Fannie Mae’s 2011 Housing Survey, the majority of American renters aspire to own.
Regardless of their aspirations, the majority of householders in the SouthCoast cities are renters, and nationally the number of renters has increased in response to the collapse of the housing market and the tightening of mortgage regulations. Also, the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University has found that, as of 2010, 70% of American rental households are surviving on an income below the national median.
These statistics suggest, especially in our area, that renters will continue to make up a larger portion of the population for longer than they have in the past.
How do we measure rental housing?
The Public Policy Center uses a variety of indicators to measure rental housing in New Bedford and Fall River. First, we examine the median rent paid in each ZIP code in order to observe how location impacts the cost of rental housing. The figures presented here are the median gross rents for the areas, which is the amount of rent plus the average monthly cost of utilities and fuel.
Rental vacancy rate is another indicator used to gauge the rental housing landscape. This statistic is calculated by the US Census American Community Survey, and it represents the proportion of the rental housing stock that is vacant for rent. Variances in the vacancy rate show which areas of the SouthCoast are more capable of housing an influx of renters and also areas which are more likely to have a high turnover of renters.
The rental housing burden is the number of rental households whose gross rent is 30 percent or more of their monthly income. By examining Gross Rent as a Percentage of Household Income (GRAPI) data provided by the American Community Survey, we can easily determine the percentage of burdened rental households in a given area. GRAPI is calculated by determining the median gross rent, then dividing it by the median household income for an area.
According to ACS data, the number of burdened rental households is on the rise. Since 1981, households spending 30 percent or more of their income on gross rent have been considered to be burdened by housing costs. The history of this benchmark is examined by Mary Schwartz and Ellen Wilson of the U.S. Census Bureau in their paper “Who Can Afford To Live in a Home?: A look at data from the 2006 American Community Survey.”
Rental occupancy rate shows the percentage of housing units in the area that are not occupied by their owners. This indicator allows us to compare the portions of the population who rent their housing to those who own their housing. The figures are taken from ACS data for housing tenure, which makes a distinction between owner-occupied and renter-occupied housing. Home ownership is often used as an indicator to measure economic prosperity. A majority of renters in our area indicates that among residents there is a lack of means or desire to own their housing, and this reflects the economic climate of the SouthCoast.
How is Fall River doing?
1. Median Rent: $729
Fall River, like New Bedford, sees a rise in rent as the population density decreases. The highest rents exist in the north of the city, rising considerably in the more rural areas that abut the Freetown-Fall River State Forest. The lowest rents in the city, and perhaps the lowest throughout the SouthCoast, exist south of I-195, which bisects the city.
2. Rental Vacancy Rate: 3.6%
With higher than average rents, a higher percentage of owner-occupied households, and a comparatively further distance from major highways, North Fall River has a rental vacancy rate nearly double that of the rest of the city. The 02724 ZIP has a strikingly low rental vacancy rate for the area, which is mirrored in the area’s homeowner vacancy rate of 0.0, according to the latest American Community Survey data.
3. Rental Housing Burden: 51%
Just over half of Fall River’s renters spends 30 percent or more of their monthly household income on rent. However, when compared with median rent, it is clear that the areas with the lowest rents have the highest percentage of the population burden by rental housing costs. In almost every ZIP code, more than half of renters are burdened by their housing costs.
4. Rental Occupancy Rate: 64.2%
As expected, the north of the city has the lowest percentage of renter-occupied households. However, there is not an area in Fall River where home owners are the majority of the residents. Although the Census Bureau reports that between 2000 and 2010 home ownership declined at rate not seen since the Great Depression, this does not account for low percentage of home ownership in the Fall River, which is almost 30 percentage points below the county (62.5%) and state (62.3%).
How is New Bedford doing?
1. Median Rent: $771
In New Bedford, rents appear to have stabilized throughout the city, with little fluctuation between neighborhoods. When compared to the Massachusetts median rent of $1,102, New Bedford’s median rent seems low, but comparable to the rest of Bristol County, where the median rent is $820.
2. Rental Vacancy Rate: 6.8%
Across New Bedford, the vacancy rate relatively remains the same. In the years that the PPC has been tracking rental vacancy rates in New Bedford, the 02745 ZIP code had a rate considerably lower than other areas of the city, but recent data suggests that vacancies there are increasing.
3. Rental Housing Burden: 50.3%
Although more than half of New Bedford’s renters are burdened by housing, this percentage is on par with both state (50.9%) and national (51.8%) statistics. The burden rises in lower income neighborhoods and falls in more affluent areas.
4. Rental Occupancy Rate: 57.5%
New Bedford renters make up the majority share of the householders in the city. Both in Massachusetts on the whole and the nation, the percentage of renters is more than 20 points lower than in New Bedford.
What’s being done to address rental housing, and where can I learn more?
South Shore Housing is a regional non-profit housing agency in the SouthCoast that assists low and middle income households in securing affordable housing. SSH provides rental assistance for towns and cities in Bristol and Plymouth counties, by administering subsidies provided on both the state and federal levels.
In addition to connecting households with need-based aid, SSH offers the Family Self-sufficiency program to low income families. Participants in FSS work with case managers at SSH to develop a five-year goal of sustained employment and an increase in their household income. The goal of FSS is to provide low income households with the tools and support they need to improve their economic circumstances and ultimately be able to begin saving towards home ownership.
The Fall River Housing Authority maintains a database of the subsidized housing programs it supervises that includes the maximum household income limits for eligibility.
The New Bedford Housing Authority is responsible for overseeing state and federal housing programs in the city.
In order to educate renters about their rights and responsibilities as tenants, the Attorney General’s office provides a Guide to Landlord/Tenant Rights
The Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts oversees Massachusetts Housing Consumer Education Center, which is made up of nine member agencies. Theses non-profit housing agencies are responsible for administered over 20,000 federal and state rental subsidies and work with tenants and property owners to create affordable, safe housing opportunities and foster long-term tenancy.
The Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) is the Commonwealth’s largest state-funded rental assistance program. Residents are eligible for MRVP as long as their household income does not exceed 200% of federal poverty level and they pass a CORI screening administered by the local housing authority.
Under the MRVP, there are two types of vouchers offered. The “Mobile” tenant-based voucher is available to participants and can be used for any housing that meets the state’s standards for sanitation and safety. The value of these vouchers is determined by the household size, location, and income of the tenant. Once tenants leave the program, their vouchers are passed along to those on the waiting list. In many localities these waiting lists are extensive, or even closed due to the magnitude of demand.
Project Based vouchers are assigned to specific developments and housing units. The owner of these units rents to eligible tenants, and a participants pay either 35% or 40% of their adjusted gross income, depending upon whether or not heat is included in the utilities. The tenant forfeits the subsidy once they vacate the residence. While waiting lists for the Project Based component are lengthy, some local housing agencies are still accepting applications.
There are currently 8 regional non-profit housing agencies and 112 local housing authorities that administer the MRVP throughout the Commonwealth to approximately 5,100 households under lease as of January, 2013 (2,100 Mobile, 3,000 Project Based). A 2009 report prepared by Ann Verrilli of the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association called an “underutilized resource.” Verrilli observes that, in 1990, MRVP served 20,000 households, and she advocates for the program to spared from future budget cuts in order to maintain its capacity.
The Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) is state-funded rent assistance program only for Massachusetts residents under the age of 60 who have disabilities. Eligibility is the same for disabled residents who qualify for Chapter 667 (elderly and disabled) housing. AHVP recipients must have a household income that is at or below 80% of area median income. A tenant will pay either 25 or 30% of their net income to the landlord, depending on whether or not the utilities are included in the rent; and the state’s local housing authority will pay the remainder.
Applicants can apply at any one of the 39 local housing agencies that have received an allocation of Alternative Housing Vouchers. If eligible, their names will be placed on a waiting list. Once their name reaches the top of the list, the applicants will be given a briefing on all aspects of the program. The AHVP has mobile vouchers only valid in Massachusetts.
MassAccess is a statewide registry for affordable housing. The web resource was specifically designed with to be easily navigated to show homes for people with disabilities and accessibility issues and/or housing that is subsidized by the state and federal government.
The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development also administers programs for households who are homeless or at risk of become homeless- HomeBASE & RAFT. These programs are discussed on our Homelessness indicators page.
Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) is a national housing voucher program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Commonly referred to as Section 8, which references the section of the 1937 Housing Act that created housing vouchers, HCV is available to all U.S. citizens and non-citizens who have a certain immigration status. Household income may not exceed 50% of the area median income. Seven-five percent of all vouchers are set aside for households whose income is at or below 30% of the area median. Generally the subsidy is set to provide for the cost of housing minus 30% of the household’s monthly income.
Data sources and methods
1. Median Rent data was take from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates statistics Table B25064 on Gross Rent. It can be access easily by using the American FactFinder and searching for the city or ZIP code.
2. Rental Vacancy Rates were taken from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. The vacancy rates for city or ZIP code can be found on the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder page.
3. The percentage of the population burdened by rental housing costs was taken from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates of Gross Rent as a Percentage of Household Income (GRAPI). The percentages represented here are the combination of GRAPI for “30.0 to 34.9 percent” and “35.0 percent or more.” These figures can be access easily by using the American FactFinder and searching for the city or ZIP code.
4. American FactFinder was also used to collect data on renter-occupied housing units, and it can be found on the website under Housing Tenure.
Last Updated: vmb 1/10/17