Ranisha Green, 25, has been searching for a two-bedroom apartment to rent for four months. Green, who has a 4-year-old daughter, has scoped out between 15 and 20 different apartments since November, but her budget, combined with the competitive market, has knocked her down time and again.
On Tuesday, she and her real estate broker, Carolyn Ridenour of Prudential CT Realty, checked out a two-story townhouse in Danbury listed at $1,200 a month — about $100 more than she originally budgeted. With a fresh coat of paint, new carpets, and a small wooden deck for Green and her daughter Jahniya to enjoy, the 1,350-square-foot apartment seemed to fit the bill. Finally.
“This is one of the best ones I’ve seen, definitely,” Green said as she checked out the bedrooms, situated on the second floor, where the townhouse’s bathroom is also located. While she is holding out for an apartment with two bedrooms, just one bathroom is fine for the pair.
The search has been frustrating for Green, who is staying nearby with a family member and sharing a room with Jahniya as she hunts for a new home.
“It’s tough to find two beds that are reasonable for me and my budget,” she said. “I’m trying to stay under $1,100, but I’m willing to go to $1,200. But nothing above that.”
That’s a tough line to stick to. According to the Census Bureau, the median rent paid per month in Danbury is $1,210, placing it near the bottom of the area, when compared to other towns and cities in Southwestern Connecticut.
While the national median is $871 per month, Naugatuck has the lowest price in Southwestern Connecticut at $966 a month; Seymour is the only other town under $1,000, with a $990 median price tag.
Then the prices climb, reaching $1,985 a month in New Canaan and more than $2,000 a month in Darien and Easton (the census stops tracking exact dollar amounts once the median rent hits $2,000). In rental hubs Stamford and Norwalk, the median rents are $1,503 and $1,274 a month, respectively.
“The Stamford-Norwalk area is always at the top of our list for highest rents in the country,” said Megan Bolton, research director for the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for affordable housing.
Of all 374 metropolitan statistical areas across the country, The Bridgeport-Stamford area, which covers the same ground as Fairfield County, has the 10th highest gross rent, at $1,249 a month, according to the census. The highest nationally is the San Jose, Calif., area, where the median monthly rent is $1,454.
The NLIHC tracks extremely low-income households — cases in which the total earning is less than 30 percent of the area median income. In Fairfield County, where median incomes are higher than much of the nation, extremely low-income households are defined as those with earnings less than $30,600 a year.
“There are about 107,000 renters in the Stamford-Bridgeport metropolitan area, and about 39,000 — or 37 percent — are ‘extremely low income,’ ” Bolton said. Nationally, about 25 percent of renters fall into that income range.
To avoid spending more than 30 percent of income on rent — a guideline pushed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — 37 percent of renters in Fairfield County would need to find a home to rent at a top price of $765 a month. Yet no single town or city in Southwestern Connecticut has a median rental price in that range.
To afford the $966 monthly rent without spending more than 30 percent of one’s income, one must earn $18.58 an hour, or $38,640 a year, according to NLIHC. For a worker who earns minimum wage, that rent is all but out of reach; it would take 90 hours of minimum-wage work each week to meet that threshold.
So people in Southwestern Connecticut make a sacrifice, and pay more than 30 percent of their income each month.
“In Connecticut, 69 percent of all extremely low income households are spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent,” Bolton said this week.
Low-income families are not the only ones feeling the squeeze. Connecticut’s young workers are finding it hard to come by housing that fits their bank accounts as well.
Julia Ladisa, 22, has been scouring the area to find someplace — anyplace — to rent for $850 a month. After a month of hunting online through real estate websites and Craigslist postings, she’s only been able to find one spot that fits the bill.
“My real estate agent showed me this one place, a one-bedroom on the north end of Bridgeport, which is $850, and it’s the only place I’m considering because all the other places I’ve seen are either higher than my budget or sketchy,” Ladisa said.
She is searching primarily in Trumbull, near the doctor’s office where she works. But with an $850 budget — which toes the line of 30 percent of her monthly income — Trumbull is proving to be a difficult town to tap into. The median monthly rent in Trumbull is $1,602 a month, and 69 percent of renters in the town pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income to call Trumbull home; that’s higher than the 48 percent who exceed the 30-percent mark nationally, and the 55 percent who exceed it locally.
A one-bedroom is almost out of the question for Ladisa, who moved to Fairfield County from Coral Springs, Fla., about a year ago: 63 percent of the town’s one-bedrooms cost more than $1,000 a month, according to the census. That can be a hard pill to swallow. Back in Florida, she and her ex-fiance split a one-bedroom with lots of amenities for $775 a month.
“We were in a nice part of Florida, a very nice part, but there isn’t even a place here for that much money, and to even get a place for $850 — it’s ridiculous,” she said. “I’ve been pretty frustrated about the whole thing. All I wanted was to find a nice place in a nice area. Is that too much to ask?”