The affordability crisis in US cities is not just about buying homes. Rents, too, have been rising since the Great Recession. In the coastal and hot cities like Denver and Austin, those increases have put even rentals out of reach for many in the middle class–defined as those making between $50 to $125,000 depending on household size. In 2016, the capital required to sign a lease on the average-priced $3,500-a-month apartment in San Francisco often topped $12,000, owing to requirements for first and last month’s rent plus security deposits and a broker fee.
The savings that used to be associated with the middle class have dried up in the past few years, as interest rates stayed low and wage growth stagnated. Not only does this make it harder for people to stay in the middle class, but it makes coming up with high sums to rent or buy city apartments impossible.
“It’s very hard to get people to understand that the affordable housing crisis is not for the very poor,” says lawyer Mechele Dickerson of the University of Texas, an expert in housing and the middle class. It’s for people with good jobs who are not poor enough to qualify for subsidized housing, nor rich enough to pay the rising housing prices. “A family that makes $100,000 can’t afford to buy a house in most US cities,” Dickerson says.