Finding a Just-Right Home: The Realities of Renting in Ohio

Finding a Just-Right Home

Today's post is by Stacy George, a rising senior at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University and an OHFA summer intern.

How well-suited are renters to their homes? Though housing researchers have explored the affordability and accessibility of housing, comparatively little research has been done on how compatible existing housing stock is with residents in the area.

An analysis was conducted on all of Ohio's Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs). The data comes directly from the 2016 American Community Survey microdata obtained from IPUMS-USA, which contains a sample of de-identified survey responses. This state-level research reported on factors of affordability, space and transit.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considers an individual “cost burdened” when they spend 30 percent of their income or more on housing and utilities. Housing units can be overcrowded (defined here as more than two persons per bedroom) or under-occupied (less than one person per bedroom). All Transit scores, produced by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, comprehensively measure a location's connectivity, access to land area and jobs, frequency of service and the percent of commuters who use transit to travel to work.

To humanize the data, we created profiles based on the most common occupations to report the most frequent combination of renter realities. The profiles were generated by career popularity in renter populations, since job access directly impacts the location and affordability of a residence. While the names and photos represent fictional characters, the stories behind them are real and representative of ordinary Ohioans.

Click the images below to enlarge each renter profile.

Renter's Reality - HeidiRenter's Reality - RachelRenter's Reality - Faye

Renter's Reality - SteveRenter's Reality - DavidGoldilocks

Let's take a look at a sixth profile: Gainful Goldilocks. You may be familiar with this person, best known for her attempt to find well-heated porridge, a comfortable chair and a soft, yet supportive, bed. Now, she is in the market for a new home. Gainful Goldilocks represents the desire of most renters, to find the "just right" fit.

To help Goldilocks find a place to call home, we must consider how a structure's age, number of bedrooms, rent costs and transit options match the renter's lifestyle. For example, let's say Goldilocks is an engaged woman, with a bike but no car, who can afford up to $750 a month based on her yearly salary of $30,000 from working as a health aid. Because of her fiancé's additional income, more housing is affordable to Goldilocks than for single women. However, not having a car for transportation could limit her options.

Seven PUMAs were compared against each other and to the state because of their range of urban, suburban and rural classification. Based on these comparisons, we can determine the best area for Goldilocks to live.


Her job as a health aid gives her the flexibility to move across the state to various metropolitan areas. However, she needs access to transit or well-maintained bike paths. Based on the comparison chart, Cleveland City and Columbus City are the most suited to accommodate her travel needs. Regarding space, smaller units are common for both cities, and each city rounds to a median of two bedrooms. These units satisfy the bedroom count needed for two individuals to live in unit that is not overcrowded. Columbus is more expensive than Cleveland, but both places report median two-bedroom apartments costing less than thirty percent of Goldilocks' income.

Goldilocks receives a job offer located in the center of Cleveland and decides on a two-bedroom apartment. While searching for an apartment, Goldilocks noticed the age of units; in Cleveland, the average age of the structures are ten years older than the mean for the state. That means that during her search, Goldilocks had to be careful and examine the appliances and overall upkeep of the rental before signing her lease. She selects an apartment that costs her a little over $1,000; while the expense stretches her current finances, she wanted the ideal location and modern amenities. She had to select a unit in an area ideal for public transportation since she doesn't own a car. Goldilocks is also fortunate in the fact that she knows she will soon have a double-income household after her marriage.

Goldilocks and her fiancé do not have the added expenses of raising a child. Trends revealed by the initial five, data-driven profiles comment on the prevalence of single-income renter households. The three most common profiles depict the realities of young women who have the added pressure of caring for at least one child. Child raising impacts finances and space, which can force people to live in overcrowded and unaffordable housing.

Housing fit helps people find communities that fit their social, financial, occupational and lifestyle needs. Even though Goldilocks is fortunate to have a career and a fiancé to share expenses with, she still faced challenges in her search, including the age of properties, access to transportation and high rental costs in areas that are suitable to her. Helping renters find homes that are "just right" will improve the health of Ohio's communities by bringing efficiency and sustainability to the real estate market. It will also help residents live healthier, happier and more successful lives.

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