When Sheila Fischer listed a four-bedroom house for rent in Alexandria recently, she was stunned at the response.
More than 60 people responded, far more than she had ever seen in the five years she and her husband have owned the house, which is their only rental property.
Single-family homes have been hot rental commodities in the Alexandria area recently.
“I’ve heard a lot of responses that their current landlord is selling the house and they have to move,” Fischer said. “Growing families is a big one. People being transferred to work here and need a place to stay.”
Those who watch the Alexandria area housing market said supply has always been tight, especially for affordable housing. But the combination of low interest rates and higher home sale prices have provided an extra squeeze to the rental market.
Brandon Johnson, broker/owner of Coldwell Banker/Crown Realtors in Alexandria, which includes about 13-14 rental houses among the properties it manages, has also seen increased demand for rental homes.
“I think it’s COVID related,” he said. “The work-from-home status is becoming permanent for a lot of people. … They can’t find anything to buy so they’re like maybe we’ll rent for a year.”
He said that from the limited sample of homes that his company is managing, the demand is pushing up prices for single-family rental properties.
“We’re seeing people push from anywhere to 10% to 15% probably,” he said.
West-Central Communities Action, which helps lower-income people get housing, says the supply of affordable housing is tight and getting tighter.
People can get vouchers worth $650 for a one-bedroom to cover both rent and utilities, said Amber Holmstrom, Family and Community Services housing coordinator.
For a family with one child, her family will issue vouchers for $850 a month to cover rent and utilities.
Many of the new apartment units being built in the Alexandria area will cost much more than that.
“Finding units in Douglas County within those standards is extremely difficult, especially once you reach larger families who require larger units,” she said. “Especially over the last year it’s gotten even worse.”
All subsidized units have a pretty lengthy waiting list of about two years, and Section 8 is closed, she said. Landlords who have been willing to work with renters with prior evictions or poor credit have become more reluctant now, having gotten burned by clients who are not paying rent, she said. Because of the pandemic, Gov. Tim Walz issued an order preventing landlords from evicting tenants based on non-payment of rent.
Then there are those who have lost income but are not eligible for unemployment because they might have kept a full-time job but lost the part-time gig that helped pay for rent. Her clients have included business owners who were making good money but then lost their business because of COVID.
“As soon as this eviction moratorium lifts, there’s going to be so many landlords going to court to process evictions,” Holmstrom said. “It’s only going to get worse”
She said she wished landlords would offer market-rate rentals, based on affordability in each county. But she’s also not sure if landlords can afford that, given the cost of building materials.
One family she knows pays $1,600 a month plus utilities to rent a four-bedroom home for their five children.
“I wish I had the solution. I don’t know what that solution is. The solution is more affordable housing but I don’t know exactly how we go about doing that,” Holmstrom said. “I don’t know if anyone is winning right now.”
As the number of renters swells, the demand pushes rental rates up further still.
As Fischer sifted through applications, she wondered about all those she had to turn away.
“I truly wish I had enough houses for everybody,” she said. “The need is so great and you hear everybody’s story and it tugs at your heart.”