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A record number of Americans can鈥檛 afford their rent. Lawmakers are scrambling to help

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DENVER (AP) 鈥 Single mom Caitlyn Colbert watched as rent for her two-bedroom apartment doubled, then tripled and then quadrupled over a decade in Denver 鈥 from $750 to $3,374 last year.

Every month, like millions of Americans, Colbert juggled her costs. Pay rent or swim team fees for one of her three kids. Rent or school supplies. Rent or groceries. Colbert, a social worker who helps people stay financially afloat, would often arrive home to notices giving her 30 days to pay rent and a late fee or face eviction.

鈥淓very month you just gotta budget and then you still fall short,鈥 she said, adding what became a monthly refrain: 鈥淲ell, this month at least we have $13 left.鈥

Millions of Americans, especially people of color, are facing those same, painful decisions as a record number struggle with unaffordable rent increases, a crisis fueled by rising prices from inflation, a shortage of affordable housing and the end of pandemic relief.

The , released in January, found that a record high 22.4 million renter households 鈥 or half of renters nationwide 鈥 were spending more than 30% of their income on rent in 2022. The number of affordable units 鈥 with rents under $600 鈥 also dropped to 7.2 million that year, 2.1 million fewer than a decade earlier.

Those factors contributed to a dramatic rise in eviction filings and a record number of people becoming homeless.

鈥淚t鈥檚 one of the worst years we鈥檝e ever seen,鈥 said Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, a senior research associate at the Harvard center, who added that the level of cost-burdened households in 2022 had not been seen since the Great Recession in 2008, when 10 million Americans lost their homes to foreclosure.

Colorado state Sen. Tony Exum Jr. holds a placard during a rally to unveil an eviction protections bill being advanced by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Denver. Monthly rent has outpaced income across the U.S., and forced many to make tough decisions between everyday necessities and a home. In turn, a record number of people are becoming homeless and evictions filings have ratcheted up as pandemic-era eviction moratoriums and federal assistance ends. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado state Sen. Tony Exum Jr. holds a placard during a rally to unveil an eviction protections bill being advanced by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

After failing to make a significant dent in the problem over the last decade, state and federal lawmakers across the U.S. are making housing a priority in 2024 and throwing the kitchen sink at the issue 鈥 including proposals to enact eviction protections, institute zoning reforms, cap annual rent increases and dedicate tens of billions of dollars toward building more housing.

The hardest hit have been renters who made less than $30,000, and who, after paying rent and utilities, were left with just $310 a month on average, Airgood-Obrycki said.

鈥淪o you can certainly imagine the kinds of tradeoffs that have to happen,鈥 she said. 鈥淐ost-burden renters are spending less on things like food and health care and retirement. So, there are significant implications for the long-term well-being of these households.鈥

In Denver, Colbert鈥檚 bathroom roof partly caved in from a leak last year, and the landlord delayed a fix even as rent went up $200 a month. It was the last straw for Colbert, who moved in to live with family and is purchasing a home through Habitat for Humanity, which gave her a low-interest loan.

鈥淚t鈥檚 so disheartening, paying so much and not even seeing where your rent is going,鈥 Colbert said. 鈥淚t just hits you like, 鈥楾his is for nothing.鈥欌

In Auburn, Massachusetts, pervasive rent hikes have already hit the last bastion of affordable housing.

Just off an interstate alongside a pond, residents at the American Mobile Home Park face rent increases upwards of 40%. Many tenants, mostly seniors and others on fixed incomes, haven鈥檛 signed new leases with those increases. The group Lawyers For Civil Rights has sent a letter to the landlord accusing it of 鈥渦nconscionable rent increases,鈥 and failing to provide critical services like adequate garbage and snow removal.

Amy Case stands in her mobile home park Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in Auburn Mass. where residents complain they are facing double-digit rent increases that they cannot afford. Their concerns are echoed nationally where a report from Harvard University found 22.4 million renter households are rent burdened. Monthly rent has outpaced income across the U.S., and forced many to make tough decisions between everyday necessities and a home. In turn, a record number of people are becoming homeless and evictions filings have ratcheted up as pandemic-era eviction moratoriums and federal assistance ends. (AP Photo/Michael Casey)

Amy Case stands in her mobile home park, Tuesday, Jan . 23, 2024, in Auburn Mass. where residents complain they are facing double-digit rent increases that they cannot afford. (AP Photo/Michael Casey)

鈥淗ow am I going to pay that?鈥 said Amy Case, 49, wondering how she鈥檒l balance the $345 monthly increase with the $200 she has to spend on medications and the cost of a twice-yearly MRI to monitor her brain tumor.

鈥淚 don鈥檛 know what else to cut back on,鈥 said Case, an administrative assistant at a local college, who said she would only have $300 left over each month for other necessities. 鈥淧robably less groceries. I certainly can鈥檛 cut back on my medications.鈥

Another tenant, 72-year-old Ann Urbanovitch, who works as a cashier at a department store, is facing a similar rent increase.

鈥淚 expected it to go up $100, but $345. I was shocked,鈥 she said. 鈥淚 have to dip into my retirement savings 鈥 because, you know, times are tough.鈥

The mobile home park owner, Parakeet Communities, did not respond to a request from 老澳门六合彩 for comment.

With many families struggling to pay, landlords in Colorado are increasingly turning to evictions, with over 50,000 evictions filed last year, according to data from the Colorado Judicial Branch.

鈥2023 was the high-water mark for evictions filings in recorded Colorado history,鈥 said Zach Neumann, co-CEO of the Community Economic Defense Project, which offers financial and legal assistance to Colorado residents struggling with rent.

Monique Gant moves belongings out of an apartment after being evicted Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Westminster, Colo. Monthly rent has outpaced income across the U.S., and forced many to make tough decisions between everyday necessities and a home. In turn, a record number of people are becoming homeless and evictions filings have ratcheted up as pandemic-era eviction moratoriums and federal assistance ends. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Monique Gant moves belongings out of an apartment after being evicted Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Westminster, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Monique Gant, the mother of two boys, stuffed her belongings into boxes in a Denver suburb last week after losing a drawn-out eviction fight, planning to move between long-stay hotel rooms and her RV for now. Gant鈥檚 hair has thinned from the stress she buries beneath a stoic face for her children.

鈥淢y kids, they assume that I am Super Woman,鈥 said Gant. But 鈥渨hen I go to take a shower, put some music on, I cry.鈥

Already, she said, her 10- and 11-year-old sons have been in fights at school and on the bus, and aren鈥檛 engaging with classes as they once did.

About 40% of those facing eviction each year are children 鈥 some 2.9 million, according to a , who said research shows wide-ranging impacts of housing turbulence and eviction on children鈥檚 mental health and development.

Monique Gant, center, of Westminster, Colo., recounts her experience of being evicted while being consoled by Colorado House Majority Leader Monica Duran during a rally to unveil an eviction protections bill being advanced by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Denver. Monthly rent has outpaced income across the U.S., and forced many to make tough decisions between everyday necessities and a home. In turn, a record number of people are becoming homeless and evictions filings have ratcheted up as pandemic-era eviction moratoriums and federal assistance ends. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Monique Gant, center, of Westminster, Colo., recounts her experience of being evicted while being consoled by Colorado House Majority Leader Monica Duran during a rally to unveil an eviction protections bill being advanced by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

鈥淲e can see that things really fall off for children that experience eviction,鈥 Graetz said.

In Congress, lawmakers are working on a bill that would expand a federal program that awards tax credits to housing developers who agree to set aside units for low-income tenants. Supporters say that could lead to the construction of 200,000 more affordable homes. Some lawmakers are also calling for more rental assistance, including a significant increase in funding for housing vouchers.

鈥淎 larger commitment from the federal government is required,鈥 said Chris Herbert, managing director of the Harvard center. 鈥淥nly then will the nation finally make a meaningful dent in the housing affordability crisis making life so difficult for millions of people.鈥

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis tours during the grand opening of the Rose on Colfax, a new affordable housing community with a co-located childcare center in the East Colfax neighborhood Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Denver. Mercy Housing, Inc., the nation's largest affordable housing nonprofit that is located in Denver, joined forces with the city of Denver and private and nonprofit organizations to build the 82-unit development in a section of the city that is undergoing rapid gentrification. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis tours during the grand opening of the Rose on Colfax, a new affordable housing community with a co-located childcare center in the East Colfax neighborhood Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

At the state level, Colorado lawmakers have proposed a bill to limit the reasons for which a landlord can evict a tenant. Other bills would scrap the filing fee for tenants in an eviction case, and roll back local rules prohibiting homeowners from renting out a separate unit on their property.

鈥淚f we don鈥檛 act now,鈥 said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in his state of the state speech last month, largely focused on housing, 鈥渨e will soon face a spiraling point of no return.鈥

A pair of children look out of the child care center during the grand opening of the Rose on Colfax, a new affordable housing community with a co-located childcare center in the East Colfax neighborhood Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Denver. Mercy Housing, Inc., the nation's largest affordable housing nonprofit that is located in Denver, joined forces with the city of Denver and private and nonprofit organizations to build the 82-unit development in a section of the city that is undergoing rapid gentrification. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
A pair of children look out of the child care center during the grand opening of the Rose on Colfax, a new affordable housing community with a co-located childcare center in the East Colfax neighborhood Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Len Harris, an organizer for the Colorado AFL-CIO, holds a placard during a rally to unveil an eviction protections bill being advanced by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Denver. Monthly rent has outpaced income across the U.S., and forced many to make tough decisions between everyday necessities and a home. In turn, a record number of people are becoming homeless and evictions filings have ratcheted up as pandemic-era eviction moratoriums and federal assistance ends. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Len Harris, an organizer for the Colorado AFL-CIO, holds a placard during a rally to unveil an eviction protections bill being advanced by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Other states feel the same urgency.

In Washington state, a bill would require that 10% of new housing around transit hubs be affordable for low-income residents. Another would bar landlords from increasing rent by more than 5% annually during a rental agreement term.

In Massachusetts, a bill would invest over $4 billion toward building and shoring up affordable housing in response to the state鈥檚 estimate that more than 200,000 additional homes will be needed by 2030. It would be the largest housing investment in state history.

Ann Urbanovitch walks through her mobile home park on Jan. 23, 2024, in Auburn, Mass., where residents complain they are facing double-digit rent increases that they cannot afford. Monthly rent has outpaced income across the U.S., and forced many to make tough decisions between everyday necessities and a home. In turn, a record number of people are becoming homeless and evictions filings have ratcheted up as pandemic-era eviction moratoriums and federal assistance ends. (AP Photo/Michael Casey)

Ann Urbanovitch walks through her mobile home park on Jan. 23, 2024, in Auburn, Mass., where residents complain they are facing double-digit rent increases that they cannot afford. (AP Photo/Michael Casey)

However, it would come too late for the rent increase Urbanovitch faces to stay in her mobile home.

鈥淢y biggest worry,鈥 she said, 鈥渋s not really having a place to move to. There鈥檚 no place to go.鈥

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Casey reported from Boston.

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Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Bedayn is a statehouse reporter for 老澳门六合彩 based in Denver. He is a Report for America corps member.
Casey writes about the environment, housing and inequality for 老澳门六合彩. He lives in Boston.