A Gen Z’s reflection on rent affordability

May 16, 2024
by John Hoang, RESULTS Hunger Fellow

As a Bill Emerson National Hunger fellow, I had to uproot my life and relocate for work for an entire year in two different states: Oklahoma City (OKC) and Washington, D.C. Being a renter in these places was daunting. I experienced the culture shock of no longer having school-provided housing. I graduated from college only a year ago. And I’m still a relatively new renter who struggled to find affordable housing in these expensive places.  

My journey as a renter began in late August 2023, when my roommate and I relocated to OKC for our first fellowship placement. That summer, I worked as a dishwasher six days a week, on 10-hour shifts, in my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, to pay off my student loans. I didn’t want to be saddled with debt as I began my adventure as a new renter away from home. Since I was young, my parents instilled in my sister and me that we needed to grow up and find good jobs to make money and help our family buy a house. Growing up, I had a very rocky childhood. I was forced to become an adult so I could help my parents. They fought a lot because money was tight when I was growing up. In my hometown, average rent prices have increased by 22 percent. Before leaving, I knew what I was up against when I had to find my own place to rent in OKC and D.C.  

Every decision I’ve made as an adult has been based on what I could afford. I had already done the math before renting in OKC. The most important consideration was the cost of how much I needed to pay per month. I nearly maxed out my credit card and had barely enough to pay the first month’s rent. At one point, I had $20 left in my bank account. I had no money left to spend on other things I needed. My roommate and I were severely rent-burdened, paying close to 50 percent of our monthly income towards rent. Unfortunately, we are not the only people facing similar financial challenges. Living paycheck to paycheck was demanding, exhausting, and draining on my spirit.  

After the first part of the fellowship ended, I moved to Washington, D.C., for the remainder of it. Finding and securing housing was even more daunting. It took over a month to find a place for my two roommates and me. Most fellows in my class had to room together to save on rent. We used every resource, from Google and D.C. Facebook groups to our fellowship alums and friends, to find an affordable place, hear recommendations, and know where to avoid renting. We were required to go to the office, so we wanted to find a place near work. We scoured the internet for bargains on 3-bed/2-bath apartments from $3,000 to $3,950 monthly. A fellow had a cat, so it was extra challenging to find a pet-friendly place.  

The search process frustrated me because the first time I was in D.C., I had school-provided housing that made my transition much smoother and more manageable. Most apartments we saw online were unfurnished. It is a challenge for those of us without a lot of financial means or strong community connections. It was a struggle to secure a place with roommates. There was a lot of competition, and many landlords had no vacancy. We spent about $140 to pay for several application fees before securing our current housing. Our current landlord didn’t require us to pay a security deposit. Instead, we were required to get rental insurance, which still costs money. We were lucky that we didn’t have to pay for utilities. I struggled to find affordable housing in D.C. and OKC. I hope Congress finds a way to help me. 

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