After living in their Southern California home for more than 10 years and paying a mortgage they could easily afford, things changed almost overnight for Mary and Jim and not for the better.
Mary, a second grade teacher, and Jim, a manager at a bank, could no longer continue living in their dream home with their 5-year-old daughter. Desperate times mean desperate measures and they were forced to either downsize or consider leasing a smaller dwelling.
The couple like millions of Americans from Coast-to-Coast simply could not afford to stay status quo. In between soaring utility bills, food costs, home repairs, health care and other bills, they had to change their lifestyle. They moved to a smaller 2-bedroom apartment, but still struggle with day-to-day bills.
Not alone, according to the annual State of the Nation’s Housing Report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies recently posted on CNN’s Money page, nearly 39 million households can’t afford their housing.
The report also suggests: “One-third of households in 2015 were ‘cost burdened,’ meaning they spend 30 percent or more of their incomes to cover housing costs. Of that group, nearly 19 million were paying more than 50 percent of their income to cover their housing needs.”
For example, besides not being able to afford their home, Mary and Jim cut back (and still do) on many of their favorite grocery items such as buying steaks, organic produce, and limiting their alcohol and wine consumption.
Instead, they opt for foods offering less nutritional value like grains, fruits and vegetables; their shopping cart is typically filled with junk foods and other lower quality food items.
Mary also cut back on buying any new fashion items including her favorite jeans at Nordstrom and treating herself to a pair of new heels every few months. Jim gave up smoking the occasional cigar and cutback on going to the local casino where he would play slots every few months.
Bottom-line: Mary and Jim didn’t and don’t have the funds to enjoy much of what they used to. They found about 30 percent of their income was being applied to housing needs vs. things they used to enjoy.
While housing affordability is a growing concern for communities nationwide, the cost-burdened shares in 11 of the country’s largest metros were above 40 percent, the report added. At the top of the list: Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City, where more than 44 percent of households were cost burdened in 2015.
And speaking of California, according to CoreLogic, the median price of a Los Angeles County home was $560,500 in May, up from $525,000 in May 2016. In Orange County, the median price was $695,000 in May, up 6.7 percent from $651,500 in May 2016. Good news right? In the grand scheme of things, perhaps for homesellers.
However, price appreciation has scared away many wanna-be buyers, who have been forced to rent. This means demand for rental units has increased and pushed up prices at apartments, condos and other leased properties.
But renting also has its problems, the same report found; more than 11 million renter households pay more than half their income on housing — a 3.7 million increase from 2001.
Miami has the highest percentage of cost-burdened renters, at nearly 62%, followed by Los Angeles and Deltona-Daytona Beach, Florida at 57%.
In the end, while home sales are up in certain areas of the country, so is the cost of living. Many families like Mary and Jim are struggling to put food on the table and when they do, it’s not what it used to be.