CINCINNATI – Since her eviction in 2021, Ayanna McClure has struggled to get back on her feet. The single mother of two spent two days living in her car, then moved in with family until a space opened up in a city shelter.

After months of searching, she thought she found her ticket back to independence, an affordable, one-bedroom apartment in Cincinnati’s Avondale neighborhood. Then, less than a year later, she found a letter on her door letting her know rent would increase $350, starting in March.

What You Need To Know

  • Rent-burdened homes pay 30% or more of their income in rent

  • 19 million households are rent-burdened.

  • Cincinnati had one of the highest rates of rent increases in the country.

  • Ohio has no rent caps or rent-control laws.

“I was like wow. I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I can’t afford that.”

McClure acknowledges, at $500 a month, she was paying far below Cincinnati’s average rent, which is around $1250, according to Rent Café. For her, that was one of the main reasons she chose the place. It was affordable. It’s even why she continued to live there when she started facing maintenance issues.

Her first unit, at the same property, had a flooding problem. Built next to a retaining wall, heavy spring rains would bring water through the floor of her bedroom.

“It was like continuous flooding,” she said. “Just the water coming out like a water fountain.”

McClure filed a complaint with the previous owner and later the city health department. She was then moved to a new unit in May while the owner promised to restore the apartment. It’s been vacant ever since.

In December, she filed a case against the landlord to pay her rent in an escrow account until the unit was repaired. In January, a new owner purchased the building and weeks later, McClure found that letter on her door.

When rent becomes a burden

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, any household spending more than 30% of their gross monthly income on rent, is cost-burdened, or spending too much to comfortably afford other necessities such as food, clothing and transportation. 

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that’s more than 19 million renter households and a new study from Moody Analytics reports those numbers have been climbing as the national average rent-to-income ratio is at its highest point in 20 years.

Across Ohio, the state Housing Finance Agency reports roughly a quarter of households are severely cost-burdened, meaning more than half of their income is dedicated to housing and in Cincinnati, which last year had one of the fastest rising rent rates in the country, those numbers are even higher. 

McClure meets with Hengehold

Kevin Hengehold, with the Cincinnati Tenants Union, said he’s seen the impact of that trend through a growing number of calls for help.

“We’ve had a handful of folks reach out either something weird happens with their building or a new manager takes over and the rent goes up by hundreds of dollars,” he said.

The union advocates for collective bargaining among tenants to negotiate rent and other housing issues, because Hengehold believes that’s one of the only things they can do. For landlords and property owners, the law is on their side.

Under Ohio law, there is no rent cap. Unless they’re receiving low-income housing tax credits or have a tenant with a HUD voucher, owners have no limits on how much they can raise the rent each year and a 2022 law blocks Ohio cities from imposing their own rent control measures. 

“There’s the difference between the law and morality but I think that pricing somebody out of their home, and taking somebody that moved in from a shelter and giving them no option left, I don’t think that’s the right thing to do,” Hengehold said.

Fighting back and moving on

McClure said that’s her greatest concern with her recent rent increase. Even if she could make it work for another year, there’s nothing to guarantee her rent won’t rise another $350 when her lease is up.

“Of course, we can pay a gradual increase, with inflation and everything that’s going on in the world,” she said. “But this is his property. He can ask for $1,000 next year.”

Working with the Tenants Union, McClure said she requested a meeting with her new property owner, asking him to negotiate a lower rent or a slower ramp up to $850. She said he declined her offers.

“It’s not negotiable,” she said.

Spectrum News 1 emailed and called the new property management company, which declined to answer questions about the rent increase. According to Rent Café, the $850 price tag is lower than the neighborhood average in Avondale, $1030. The new property manager has also begun renovating some of the units and replacing appliances.

As for McClure, she said she would like to stay until the end of May so her children can have some stability through the end of the school year. After that, she plans to move, hoping to find public housing or a property where her rent is set based on her income.

She has a court date at the end of March to try to retrieve the money out of her escrow account to help with moving expenses.

“I am doing everything in my power, for me and my children not to be homeless again,” she said.