Homes for Rent are Scarce, Demand Rising

Demand for rental housing continues to climb more than four years after the recession, pushing up rents and cutting into Americans’ disposable income.

The rental vacancy rate, or the share of units that are empty and available for rent, fell 0.5 percentage point in 2013 to 8.2% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, the Commerce Department said Friday.

After peaking at just above 11% in 2009, rental vacancy has fallen sharply in the wake of the housing collapse and recession. That reflects families flocking to rentals after losing their homes to foreclosure, being blocked from obtaining a mortgage due to tighter lending standards or simply concluding that buying is too risky.

The higher demand and tighter supply of units are enabling landlords to raise prices. The median asking rent for vacant units in October through December was $746, up 3% from $724 a year earlier. (The figures aren’t adjusted for inflation.)

That shows rents rose at double the rate of overall inflation last year as measured by the Labor Department’s consumer-price index. Overall consumer prices rose 1.5% in 2013.

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