Home, Food Or Health Care: A Choice Many Renters Can't Afford

Moe Bedard

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(Source: NPR) - The mortgage crisis that devastated the economy has received endless attention, but it's not just homeowners who have suffered badly in this economy.

As of 2012, renters made up 35 percent of American households. Their numbers are growing, reversing a decades-long uptick in home ownership.

And in the last 50 years, the percentage of income they're spending on the rent has increased dramatically. A quarter of renters are spending more than half their income on rent.

Ymelda Alvarez, her husband and their two daughters live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment just east of downtown Los Angeles in a neighborhood called Boyle Heights. It's not a fancy or trendy area; it's a poor part of town with a lot of crime and most of the schools are struggling.

Their apartment consists of a front living room converted to a bedroom, a small kitchen and a little room in the back with bunk beds for the kids. Other amenities include sagging ceilings, leaky faucets, doors that don't lock and pests like cockroaches and rats.

For this they pay $1,000 a month.

But it's currently their only option. Antonio, her husband, can't land a full-time job and only makes about $1,200 month from stringing together part-time work at a school nearby.

"That would only be enough for the rent and some bills," Ymelda Alvarez says. She says they spend so much on rent they have to cut back in other areas.

"I always think about the rent first, then about food. If it is not enough we have to cut back on food," she says.

'We Have To Embrace Development'

Across Los Angeles, others like the Alvarez family are struggling. The city is now home to the highest proportion of renters of any major American city. A lot of people want to live there; it's almost always sunny, after all, and the beach is right there.

READ MORE: http://www.npr.org/2014/06/15/321696517/home-food-or-health-care-a-choice-many-renters-cant-afford?ft=1&f=1001