A new study ranks Walworth County as one of the most rent-burdened counties in the state and indicates half of renters do not earn enough to live affordably.
The study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum says 50.8 percent of Walworth County’s renters spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent.
According to the study, households can afford spending up to 30 percent of their income in gross rent, which includes the cost of utilities.
Using the 30 percent threshold, Walworth County ranks among the five Wisconsin counties with the highest percentage of rent-burdened households. Others include Milwaukee, Kenosha, Langlade and Iron counties.
Those results indicate a prevalence of low-paying jobs and a lack of affordable housing options, the study says.
Walworth County has a higher percentage of struggling households than neighboring Rock County, where 46.9 percent of renter households are rent burdened, according to the study.
In Wisconsin overall, 46.7 percent of renters are considered rent burdened.
The median rent in Walworth County is $828 a month, well above the state’s overall median monthly rent of $789. The median household income also is $603 above the state median at $32,339. According to the study, renters make up 32.2 percent of the county’s households.
Joe Peterangelo, senior researcher and author of the study, said the causes of Walworth County’s high percentage of rent-burdened households should be examined more closely, but he offered a few possibilities, such as rental price discrepancies and low wages.
Peterangelo said low wages are often the driving factor for rent-burdened households, and he pointed to Milwaukee County. The state’s most populous county is also one of the worst counties in the state for rent-burdened households—and one of the worst in the country. Yet rents in Milwaukee County are not particularly high, he said, and there isn’t a shortage of rental units.
Other counties with high percentages of rent-burdened households are Kenosha County with 51.6 percent, Langlade County with 55.8 percent and Iron County with 50.4 percent.
“It just is kind of descriptive of the problem. It might seem obvious that incomes would be more of an issue than rental prices. It just kind of describes the root,” Peterangelo said. “You do see that this rent-burdened issue is not unique. You have a lot of rural counties, and those who do rent, many of them are rent burdened.”
Walworth County has the highest percentage of households in poverty among its neighboring counties.
According to data from United Way, 14 percent of Walworth County households are impoverished, and 25 percent are asset limited, income constrained and employed, or ALICE. Those numbers mean about 40,039 residents are either impoverished or ALICE, meaning they’re employed but still struggling financially.
Peterangelo said the county’s high percentage of poverty and ALICE could indicate why it has a high percentage of rent-burdened households. But not all of those in the poverty and ALICE category are renters; some are homeowners, he said.
Still, the forum’s study indicates high percentages of rent-burdened households are a trend in urban and rural areas across the state, and Peterangelo said the root is low income.
“It’s really an income problem in a lot of cases,” he said. “With that kind of income, it’s very difficult not to be rent burdened.”