At a time when rising gasoline and food prices are already straining Hoosiers’ budgets, Johnson County apartment tenants are grappling with soaring rents.
The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Franklin is currently $1,400, a 93% increase from this time last year. In Greenwood, the average rent is $1,119, a 14% increase, as of June 9, according to the latest data from Rents.com.
The increases don’t stop there.
When it comes to 1-bedroom apartments, the average rent in Franklin has increased by 48%, to $999. For a 3-bedroom apartment, rent has increased by 91%, to $1,570, data shows.
In Greenwood, the increases for studio, one-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments were lower than Franklin’s. A studio apartment in Greenwood currently costs $1,102, a 24% increase around this time last year. For a one-bedroom apartment, the average rent is $945, a 13% increase, data shows.
For a three-bedroom apartment in Greenwood, the average rent is $1,212, a 1% increase from last year, data shows.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the average rent in Johnson County has risen by 19%, to $1,027. This is a huge jump, said Amanda Ott of the Bridges Alliance of Johnson County, citing national rent data collected from the Washington Post. Bridges Alliance is a collaboration between businesses, social service agencies, churches and individuals working together to end poverty in the community.
While other types of housing are in the works in area towns and cities, most of it includes luxury or market-rate apartments. Affordable housing, both new homes and rentals, is sorely lacking in the county, Ott said.
“We have luxury apartments going in; $400,000 neighborhoods going in, but we have nothing for people who want that affordability,” she said.
Even with the data available now, Ott says the data still does not paint a picture of how bad it is, as the numbers are outdated by the time they’re reported. With inflation now, there are a lot more people than reported who are renting and barely making it by, she said.
With rents continuing to rise, there is rental assistance available. One major source is the Indiana Emergency Rental Assistance (IERA) program.
The IERA program results from the more than $371.9 million in federal funding the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) received from the CARES Act to support Indiana households financially impacted by COVID-19. The program can provide up to 18 months in rental assistance to help cover past due and ongoing monthly rent and utility payments for qualifying Indiana renters, the agency says.
Households from all over the state, including Johnson County, have utilized the program. In Johnson County, at least 958 households have been assisted through the state’s emergency rental assistance program, with more than $7.6 million being given in rental assistance. More than $653,936 in utility assistance has also been issued to county households, according to IHCDA’s June 6 update on the funding.
Another well-known federal aid program is the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program. This voucher program assists very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled by helping them afford decent, safe and sanitary housing in private markets, according to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Any households who receive a voucher must pay at least 30% of their monthly adjusted gross income for rent and utilities, the agency says.
Ott said it’s great that there are programs to offer both rental assistance and vouchers, however, the willingness of landlords to accept the assistance can be an issue.
“Not all landlords accept the vouchers from some of the federal programs and a lot of times people don’t know that,” she said.
Some apartment complexes that offer low-income housing units only do so after receiving rental subsidies from HUD. The department is obligated to provide subsidies for a maximum period of 15 years.
Once this 15-year period ends, the complex can choose to not participate, and begin offering the apartments at market-rate prices. If a resident had a voucher and lived there, they would have to find another space to use it or would have to pay market-rate, Ott said.
Depending on where you live, that could be difficult, she said.
In Edinburgh, there are three places that participate in low-income housing programs, and in Trafalgar, there are two. In Greenwood, the county’s largest city, there are about 19 places, and in Franklin, about 16. However, these numbers are not certain as not all complexes are willing to share information with organizations like Bridges Alliance, Ott said.
Even if they do accept the vouchers, many complexes only offer a handful of units for low-income households, she said.
“They aren’t offering all units to be affordable,” Ott said.
Many rental communities also did not renew housing contracts with IHCDA, leading to fewer options for those with vouchers, said Katie Schwarz, director of the Kids in Crisis-Intervention Team, or KIC-IT. The organization collaborates with other groups and agencies to support young people, ages 16 to 25, who are struggling to break the cycle of homelessness.
The pandemic, combined with the booming housing market, has also made it difficult for low-income families looking for rentals. A lot of private landlords have sold their properties because of the eviction moratoriums. Many landlords lost money during the moratoriums due to lack of payment, and because they were unable to evict people, Schwarz said.
Additionally due to the shortage of affordable housing, rents have increased significantly, which has created a problem for low-income people, she said.
“Rent in Johnson County is higher than the state average. The number has increased since COVID, but wages are not higher than the state average,” Schwarz said. “The discrepancy makes it even harder.”
Inflation and the lack of available housing will continue to make the rent situation difficult for the foreseeable future, advocates said. However, one thing that could help is having a registry of landlords so both communities and residents can see a full listing of all available rentals in their areas, Ott said.
“(Landlords) wouldn’t have to pay,” Ott said. “It’s just a matter of registering so people can get the information. Right now, most of the rental stuff is word of mouth.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Here’s a look at average rents in Franklin and Greenwood compared to one year earlier, with data as of June 9: