Jay Ramos at apartment

"I would think there would be an apartment available, but that’s not the case," says Jay Ramos, who has struggled to find a larger apartment at a price he can afford.

When Jay Ramos looks around his apartment, the anxiety creeps in.

“I’m hoping to find a place so I can breathe a little better,” said the 34-year-old Bank of America employee. “I feel like I’m in jail.”

Ramos is one of the El Pasoans confronting the peculiar COVID-related phenomenon that has little to do with flu-like symptoms or vaccines or masking, and everything to do with finding a decent place to rent at an affordable price.

The economy is opening, sluggishly, but enough so that people are working more regularly, and emerging from the pandemic to look for bigger places, or units of their own. Problem is, industry experts say, there are fewer rentals available and prices have gone up.

In El Paso County, “early indicators are that rents had increased by almost 8%,” said UTEP economics professor Tom Fullerton. Couple that with a 2% drop in rental availability – down from 7% early in the pandemic and 5% at the end of July 2021 – and people are struggling to match their budgets with the rental market in El Paso.

“I would think there would be an apartment available, but that’s not the case,” Ramos said. “The apartment complexes keep advertising and advertising but they don’t have anything available. I’ve been going to see them, and they don’t even have the models to check out.

“The last place that I went, the tenant was there and they made him leave so I could see the apartment, but it had all his stuff in there. It’s crazy out there.”

Zumper.com’s national rent report for August, which aggregates data from more than 1 million listings, shows the price of two-bedroom apartments in El Paso has reached $970, a 16.9% increase since this time last year.

The same trend is occurring nationally.

“Since January 2021, the national median rent has increased by a staggering 13.8%. To put that in context, rent growth from January to August averaged just 3.6% in the pre-pandemic years from 2017-2019,” according to a report published last month by Apartment List.

When the pandemic caused job instability, many people moved back into their parent’s home, took on new roommates to help with bills, and generally found ways to share living space.

“Now the reverse is happening where people are going back out; they want to get a place of their own. And it suddenly becomes a very competitive atmosphere to sign a new lease,” Jeff Tucker, an economist at Zillow, recently told Marketplace, a nonprofit news organization focused on economic issues.

Despite the spike in rents, apartments in El Paso remain more affordable overall than they are in many other cities, with the Sun City landing as the 92nd most expensive rental market in the nation in Zumper’s rankings.

Luis Villa, an El Pasoan who has spent his entire adult life in apartments, said he is versed in the cat-and-mouse negotiations of apartment searching. But this year, he said, he’s been taken aback by the limited options and unwillingness for landlords to negotiate. He is currently trying to find a place to rent for him and his wife.

“Have you seen the prices listed on Craigslist? They’re up into $900 and $1,000 just for an apartment. Why?” he asked incredulously.

“I have always paid my rent, always paid bills, always provided the food we needed to eat. I’m not a criminal. I live right, I go to work, I come home and I’m with my wife, and that’s it,” he said. “And the requirements they ask of people, man, I wonder who are these people? By the grace of God, there should be room for something better.”

Fullerton at UTEP said from July 2020 to July 2021, the average monthly rent in El Paso went up $64, from an average of $809 per month to $873.

El Paso real estate broker Patrick Tuttle, owner of Legacy Real Estate Services, publishes a quarterly analysis of the new and existing home market in the El Paso area. He’s also a property manager for rental units around town and said there are additional factors bumping up the prices of rental spots.

First, some property owners, who are motivated by a strong sales market, are selling their rental units “at a good number,” he said. “Since they are selling their rental units, now we have fewer rental units in the market, and supply and demand takes over. We have less supply and more demand, and you have the inverse relationship, so prices rise.”

Tuttle said that last year, his company sold 15% of its rental inventory, and is expecting this year to again sell between 15% and 18%.

Additionally, he said that a stronger job market – including the Amazon facility opening in El Paso – is bringing in more people from out of town who are attracted by this region’s low cost of living. Some of tahem are also coming to El Paso to work remotely through the internet while maintaining their employment at other locations.

Scott Lynch, executive director of the El Paso Apartment Association, said there are several factors that are pushing people to look for an apartment.

Higher home costs, which are partly a result of shortages and increased costs in building materials, have made it more difficult for some people to qualify for mortgages, which forces them to look for rental spaces, he said. The same shortage in building materials means that apartment construction is diminished, so the demand for rental space is outpacing the supply, placing more and more people on rental waitlists, increasing the cost for those rentals.

“The simplest explanation is that there is a shortage of housing in El Paso,” Lynch said.

Nancy Luna and her husband Juan had visited El Paso from San Antonio with the hope of finding a place to rent. “Right now as I’m speaking, I’m driving back to San Antonio,” Nancy said during a telephone interview. “We’ve been turned away. It’s surprising.” She said an issue with her husband breaking lease years ago, and a low credit score from that same time, have kept them from finding a place in El Paso.

“I wish they would give people a second chance. Just show some sympathy,” she said.

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(1) comment

BigBlueWave

It is really upsetting that El Paso Apartments continue to raise their rents, because they can. And there is nothing that can stop them either. Even worst when these out of town landlords who have never even been to El Paso. Think that they are doing their renters favor by providing quality with extra garbage pick up service.

As already is, El Paso apartment renters already pay for sanitation pick up.In the some of $15 dollars a month. Where the renters take out our own garbage and carry it outside and put it inside a garbage dumpster. So some apartment staff figure that it would be better to hire these so called "Valet Living" custodians to pick up our trash at night. Just put the trash in a garbage bag and leave it outside your apartment door. And that also gets added to our monthly rent charges in the sum of $18. dollars. So we get billed twice for trash pick up, this surely has to be a California thing. Where someone in California is lining their pockets, from some of us that are on fix income. Sure, we have the luxury of refrigerated air that will also increase our electric bill by $120 during the summer months. Refrigerated air only works when the temperature is 70 to 75 degrees outside. So when it's one hundred outside, it's 90 degrees inside our apartments. And some apartments have swimming pools so that's another $150.00 more in rental cost. Whether we use the pool or not, we still get charged for it. Many El Paso apartments were built in the early 1970's and are as deplorable as crazy. They should really be condemned. but who's to say. Bottom line is that there should be a Rental Board set up in El Paso to take all tenant complains and take the landlords to court. El Paso also needs Rent Control, to stop landlords from raising the rents. El Paso is not Hawaii, or Malibu or some nice exotic place on Earth. Yet some renters here are paying for something that's really not worth it.

I'm paying $900. for a one bedroom apartment built before 1974.

And there is nothing luxury about this place except I live next door to gangland.

I wanted to move to downtown El Paso, but it's all expensive stuff, with no affordable apartment rentals.

RENT CONTROL IS WHAT WE NEED! El Paso?

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