Renters in Central and South Los Angeles Reduced Spending on Basic Needs to Afford Housing

A study published in the Journal of Urban Affairs, “How do renters survive unaffordability? Household-level impacts of rent burden in Los Angeles,” found 85% of surveyed renters in central and south Los Angeles reduced their consumption of at least one basic need to afford housing. Rent-burdened households cut back spending for several basic needs at a significantly higher rate and for longer durations than non-rent-burdened households. The researchers also found that severely rent-burdened households were more likely than renters with lower rent-burdens to increase their household size to afford housing.

The study used data from 794 door-to-door household surveys administered in both English and Spanish in central and south Los Angeles in 2019. Survey administrators asked residents whether they had made consumption cutbacks – for food, health and medicine, clothing, education, bills and debt, or entertainment and family activities – or functional adjustments to their work or home situations – including taking on more work hours or jobs, adding additional people to the household, or renting out a room – to make their housing more affordable.

Across all surveyed households, 84.7% of respondents cut back on their consumption of at least one basic need to make housing more affordable, with over half reducing spending on food and 45% delaying paying bills or taking on additional debt. Rent-burdened households were more likely than non-rent-burdened households to cut back on food, health, medicine, clothing, and transportation.

The researchers also examined adjustments to work and housing conditions made by households to increase income or reduce their share of the rent. Forty percent of non-rent-burdened households and 35% of rent-burdened households had adjusted either their employment or housing in the previous two years. Across all respondents, more than one in four took on more work hours or jobs, and nearly one in six adjusted their housing situation by either adding an additional member or renting out a room. Severely rent-burdened households were significantly more likely than moderately rent-burdened households to add additional members to their household.

The researchers found that one-third of households adjusted either their work or household size to afford housing and had also cut back on basic needs. More than 25% of households that adjusted their work or housing conditions had cut back spending on three or more basic needs. The researchers conclude that layered survival tactics create new, impactful stressors on households already struggling to afford rent. They call for immediate and long-term supports that alleviate housing costs and help renters handle day-to-day budgets, including investment in new affordable housing and the preservation of affordable housing, increasing the supply of affordable market-rate housing through zoning changes, increased subsidized housing and expansion of housing voucher programs, and reinvestments in the social safety to help renters meet basic needs.

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