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Sedgwick County renters spend larger portion of income on housing than homeowners, new data shows

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Mark Moz
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flickr Creative Commons

The latest census data compares the cost burden of housing between renters and homeowners.

Renters in Sedgwick County spend significantly more of their income on housing than homeowners, new census data shows.

A median of 27% of renters’ income goes to housing costs in Sedgwick County. Meanwhile, homeowners with a mortgage spend a median of just 19% of their income.

The numbers come from census data averaged from 2017 through 2021.

Stan Longhofer, director of Wichita State University’s Center for Real Estate, said mortgage rates were historically low over those five years. At the same time, there was a shortage of housing, which meant home prices were going up.

“But that cost was offset for homeowners with a mortgage because mortgage rates were so low,” Longhofer said. “Not so much for renters. The costs of rent have continued to rise over that time period.”

Danielle Johnson is the executive director of Wichita’s Habitat for Humanity. She said that having a fixed mortgage means housing costs won’t fluctuate as much over time, while renters have to rely on the changing market.

“I called a place one time, and we got the initial rent was going to be $600,” Johnson said. “The next day I called. They're like, ‘Oh, well I'm sorry. It's really $750.’”

In Wichita, rent increased by an average of 9% in 2021, according to a 2022 commercial market forecast by J.P. Weigand. The report forecasts that rental rates will “continue to stay ahead of home price growth.”

For Sedgwick County homeowners without a mortgage, a median of just 11% of income is spent on housing.

“That really highlights the long-term benefit of homeownership,” Longhofer said. “Eventually you live now in the house without having to make that mortgage payment … you can think of it almost like you get to live rent-free.”

The numbers in Sedgwick County mimic a nationwide trend in which renters spend a larger portion of their income on housing than homeowners. Homeowners in only 18 counties nationwide had a higher housing cost ratio than renters, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nationally, renters spend a median of about 30 percent of their income on housing - three percentage points more than Sedgwick County renters. Longhofer says this is because land is cheaper in Wichita compared to coastal cities.

Johnson added that cost is just one part of the affordable housing equation.

“We have to have affordable housing units … but also what are we looking at on the wage side?” Johnson said. “If someone has a livable wage, they're more likely to be able to have a decent place to live.”

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.