Wilmington rents rise as demand increases


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Haley Fox works seven days a week to pay her rent and make ends meet.

The 24-year-old works day shifts at the New Hanover Regional Medical Center during the week. Then, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, she works nights at an assisted living center in Wilmington. It doesn’t leave much time to sleep.

“My sleep schedule is almost nonexistent,” Fox said.

The money she earns covers her rent, insurance payments, food and other bills.

“Between rent and car insurance and food… all together,” she said, “it barely makes ends meet, but I have a little bit of savings.”

Rent represents a large part of his monthly expenses. She currently pays about $ 1,300 per month for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. The apartment is 200 square feet smaller than its last unit but $ 200 more expensive.

Fox isn’t the only one paying more for his rent. The average monthly rent in New Hanover County has increased by nearly 23% over the past five years, from $ 977 at the start of 2016 to $ 1,265 as of April 1, 2021, according to Yardi Matrix, a company that researches and collects data on commercial real estate, including collective dwellings.

“They are still the same old apartments”

Wilmington is one of many cities seeing their rents rise, according to Paula Munger, associate vice president of industry, research and analysis at the National Apartment Association.

“Wilmington is definitely not an outlier,” she said.

The Raleigh-Durham area has seen an increase of approximately 18% in rental prices over the past five years, while Winston-Salem has seen an increase of approximately 25%. But in some metropolitan areas, like Manhattan and San Francisco, average rental rates have fallen, according to Yardi Matrix data.

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City Block Apartments located at 814 N. Third St. in Wilmington, NC

“The pandemic has sent a lot of people back from the big markets to the smaller ones,” Munger said. “We certainly see it again when you look at rent trends. “

Ashley Merklinger, 23, saw rent soar at the Wilmington apartment building she rented with roommates while attending the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Its first year of rental in 2018, the base rent was just under $ 1,200. Three years later, similar apartments at the complex are listed online for nearly $ 1,500, Merklinger said.

“It just seems very dramatic for such a short period of time when things don’t really change or update. It’s still the same old apartments,” she said. “They just become less accessible to people.”

Merklinger now lives in an apartment in Leland where she pays around $ 1,250 a month. Merklinger grew up in Brunswick County and has seen house prices rise there as well.

“It used to be that you could get a trailer or a house for well under $ 1,000 a month, but now it’s so rare,” she said.

Katrina Knight, director of the Good Shepherd Center in Wilmington, began to notice the rising costs of one-bedroom apartments in Wilmington when it became more difficult to accommodate homeless single adults who come to the shelter.

Now, it’s hard to find a room with rent for less than $ 900 a month, Knight said.

Variable increases

In New Hanover County, not all neighborhoods experience the same rent increases.

Downtown Wilmington saw the largest increase in rental prices, from $ 1,029 in early 2016 to $ 1,568 in early April 2021. That’s an increase of $ 540 or 52%.

Meanwhile, rents in the Northside area have increased by 8%, from $ 1,180 in early 2016 to $ 1,276 in early April 2021.

Simple supply and demand explains much of the variation in rental prices, said Doug Ressler, head of business intelligence at Yardi Matrix.

Neighborhoods with the highest rental demand are likely to experience the largest increase in rental prices, while areas with the lowest demand are likely to experience more moderate increases.

More people are moving from the northern United States to areas in the southeast, such as Wilmington, which could contribute to increased demand.

The movement of people to the southeastern United States during the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified an affordability problem that stems from a shortage of rental housing, Ressler said.

Building material shortages and supply chain issues that have plagued home builders are also limiting the construction of multi-family units, Ressler added.

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Help on the way?

There are currently 36,832 rental units in New Hanover County with 5,093 more slated for construction, according to data from the Wilmington Apartment Association.

Over the past year, occupancy rates for multi-family housing complexes in New Hanover County have hovered between 94% and 95%, according to Yardi Matrix.

In recent years, the Wilmington Apartment Association has seen more “mid-rise community types” that have a smaller footprint due to limited availability of land. The organization has also seen an increase in the number of apartments with mixed-use commercial spaces.

If rental prices continue to climb, it could mean housing instability for more Wilmington residents.

“We’re going to see more and more people at risk of losing their homes,” Knight said.

But as new apartment buildings are completed, rents in the Wilmington area may start to stabilize, Ressler said. “We think the rents will go down somewhat,” he said.

More than 4,500 multi-family homes are expected to be built over the next five years in New Hanover County, according to data from Yardi Matrix.

Yet it could take years for the supply of rental housing to match demand in Wilmington and other metropolitan areas.

“The lack of supply is going to be with us for a while,” Ressler said.

In the Wilmington area, the influx of people fueled demand and contributed to high rental rates.

“It is very difficult to find enough housing to accommodate the influx of people,” Merklinger said. “I don’t think we’ve really been configured with the infrastructure to be one of the most displaced areas in the country.”

As demand and rental prices continue to climb, local governments and the community will be forced to take steps to moderate rental costs because for now, at least, “it’s hard to imagine that rents will start. to decrease or normalize, ”Knight said.

The County of New Hanover and the City of Wilmington have formed a Joint Workforce Housing Advisory Committee to study the need for manpower or affordable housing in the area and develop a long-term plan and projects to bring workforce housing to the area.

Knight, who is a member of the committee, said it would be essential for the community to support efforts to provide affordable rentals in the area, but she is optimistic about community conversations that have already taken place.

“It seems clear to many of us that as a community we need to identify and rally around strategies to produce a larger and more meaningful number of affordable rentals,” she said.

“We have finally come to a point where we can make real progress on this issue. “

Journalist Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or [email protected]

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