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"Rent eats first" | Experts weigh in on the hunt for affordable housing in Knoxville

More than 46% of Knoxville's renters have a cost burden, where they're putting around a third of their income toward rent.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The cost of rental housing in Knoxville is going up. It's outpricing some people who have lived in Knoxville for decades. However, what many people don't know is where those renters will go once they've been out-priced.

More than 46% of Knoxville's renters have a cost burden, where they're putting more than 30% of their income toward rent.

"About a quarter of those renters are actually severely cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than half of their income on housing," said Andrew Aurand, a researcher with the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

One of the main reasons for that rent-cost burden is the lack of rental supply and the high demand for housing in the city.

"Housing is getting harder and harder to find, particularly rental housing, and what we consider affordable for those families," said Becky Wade, the director of Housing and Neighborhood Development in Knoxville.

One solution for these families is to find affordable housing; however, Knoxville has a fixed short-term supply for that as well. Many say they cannot find an affordable place to live, since so many other people are searching for affordable housing too.

The Knoxville Community Development Corporation operates 23 affordable, low-income housing communities. But, nine of those are specifically for the elderly and disabled.

Nearly all of those developments have waiting lists.

Credit: KCDC

However, those applicants on the waiting list are prioritized by need.

"Roughly only about a quarter of families who would qualify for affordable housing or housing assistance actually receive it. Three-quarters of them don't," Aurand said.

Knoxville leaders said they are trying to establish more affordable housing communities. One of those is a $220 million project that is being discussed in Knox County, to expand an existing affordable housing community — Western Heights.

RELATED: KCDC hosts open house for community to see final plans of Western Heights transformation project

However, even with the planned expansion, the city still won't have enough affordable units to meet the need.

"It doesn't seem like we're keeping up. More and more people are moving to Knoxville," Wade said.

Leaders said it's not something they can do without buy-in from development companies builders.

"We have to rely on developers and nonprofit developers who have this mission, to build affordable housing, to do it. And then we can provide funding incentives for them," Wade said.

"There's a saying that 'rent eats first,' meaning people pay their rent first, so they can at least maintain their shelter. But they have to cut back on these other necessities in order to do that," Aurand said. 

Below, you can find a list of income limits that short the maximum people can make to still qualify for affordable housing in Knoxville.

Credit: KCDC


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