Butler County rent spikes spurred by inflation, housing shortages

·6 min read

Jul. 3—As rental rates across the country jump, Butler County tenants and housing-related organizations are beginning to notice higher rent brought on by inflation and housing shortages in the area.

Jeffrey Diver, the Executive Director of Supports to Encourage Low-income Families (SELF) — an organization that's been tasked with divvying up the county's $20.4 million in federal COVID-related rent and utility relief — said it's a "unique time" for rent spikes.

"It's not every landlord that's increasing their rents, but many of them are," Diver said. "And that's having a great impact on low to moderate income households."

Diver said SELF clients have been seeing an average of 30 percent increases, from what he's heard.

Nick Gallant, president of the private landlord organization Butler County Real Estate Investors Association — said rental rates around the county are increasing due to factors outside a landlord's control.

"While rental rates are increasing, it is mainly due to the limited housing supply and the increased auxiliary expenses these small business owners are faced [with in order] to maintain the home," Gallant wrote in an email.

Gallant wrote that an increase in housing production would allow for lower rates and more options for renters, and that small landlords have a vested interest in keeping renters long-term in order to avoid high-turnover costs.

"Housing providers usually resist increases, especially big ones," Gallant wrote. "To avoid them, the best policy is an abundance of housing so providers compete with other providers, rather than residents competing with each other for scarce housing."

Mindy Muller, chair of the Butler County Housing and Homeless Coalition, said new, affordable housing options have not kept up with the pace of aging and dilapidation of the county's housing stock over the years.

"There has been an effort to try to eliminate blight, and some of those homes weren't being cared for anymore and they needed to come down," Muller said. "But we haven't replaced and replenished that housing stock that was an affordable place for people to live."

For renters, a lack of housing supply means that more and more private landlords are being priced out of options, too.

"There are a lot more local landlords getting out of the business because they're being bought out by these outside landlords that are coming in and buying up the properties," Muller said. "That's absolutely happening here."

Brian Carberry, the senior managing editor at Rent. (also known as rent.com) — a listing service that also collects and compares rental prices on a year-to-year basis — said increases in Butler County are "... very much in line with what you would expect nationally."

Carberry said this national increase in rent, which began at the end of last summer and is currently peaking, could be the market more or less correcting itself after rents stayed "relatively flat" during the height of COVID's economic impact.

Factors within the housing market are also contributing to pricier rents, Carberry said. A higher cost of living and higher mortgage rates are pricing more people out of owning a home, which in turn is increasing the short term demand on rental properties and causing rent to go back up.

Meanwhile, lower housing inventories means there are fewer homes to buy or rent, and the rising cost of homes means that the options on the cheaper end of the spectrum are being snatched up.

"There's a lot at play," Carberry said. But he does expect the rate increase to be confined to this year. In other words, he believes a renter will not have to pay an additional 20 percent on a lease signed in 2023.

"If people are signing a one-year lease, it's probably a one-time big increase, and then next year when they sign their lease — assuming things stay steady and there are no external factors that impact the economy — that rate of increase won't be as significant next year."

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said May saw the highest increase in the shelter index since 2004. In particular, rent prices across the country rose 0.6 percent for the second month in a row.

Data from Rent. shows large jumps in Butler County's cities. The average one-bedroom apartment in Hamilton is 20 percent more expensive than it was a year ago, while the average two-bedroom is 13 percent more expensive.

Middletown one-bedrooms saw a year-over-year increase of 16 percent, while Fairfield saw a 36 percent increase.

Angela Winesett, a renter in Hamilton who has been in the same home for two years, said her landlord informed her that her rent will increase by $50, or about nine percent, starting in July.

Winesett, whose pay has been stagnant since a pay bump around the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and predating the inflation spike, said she'll feel the increase.

"I wanted to go back to my job and tell [them], 'They raised the rent, so can I get a raise at work?' But that didn't work out very well," Winesett said. "Fifty bucks is fifty bucks, you know? It's a difference."

The Journal-News previously reported that SELF helped more clients in May than in any other month since the pandemic began, coinciding with the highest inflation rates in decades.

Diver described the current economic scenario as a "perfect storm" for renters.

"All other costs are going up also; the cost of gasoline, the cost of food, the cost of rent — all of that. Those increases impact the lowest income households more than they do others."

All households that receive help from SELF will, at some point, be ineligible for further assistance, and Diver said the future is unclear for clients who are reaching that limit.

"We are seeing more households every week that are reaching the limit of the assistance we can provide. What happens after that is anyone's guess," Diver said.

Lauren Brindley, a single mother of three who moved to Hamilton after being priced out of Cincinnati last November, said her experience with her private landlord should serve as an example for housing providers in the area who are raising rents above inflation rate.

"Landlords are taking advantage," Brindley said. "If my landlord can afford to rent this at a reasonable rate because he knows I'm a single mom ... there's no reason for any of these landlords out here to be charging the prices they have."

Muller said there are "good conversations happening" around increasing affordable housing in the area, and that those conversations have to feature local organizations, housing providers and renters.

"At the end of the day, everyone's living someplace," Muller said. "Having a comprehensive approach to how we solve this as a community is critical."