Renters Are 'Losing Ground': Paying More, Cutting Elsewhere to Make Up for It

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- If you rent a home or an apartment, you're more likely to cut back on groceries, health care services and bank and investment savings.

That's a conclusion drawn from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and just another sign of the times as the economy inches forward.

According to the Harvard study, half of U.S. renters pay 30% or more of their income to their landlords, compared with 38% of renters who were paying so much a decade ago.

Regionally, the problem is worse.

Take Florida, where the number of low-income renters paying 40% or more of their income on rental housing rose from 411,000 in 2000 to 711,000 in 2011, according to the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies.

That's a disturbing sign as the number of apartment dwellers rises. Since 2004, the percentage of renters has risen to 35% from 31%, according to the Harvard report.

"The gravity of the situation for the large proportion of renters spending so much of their incomes on housing is plain," says Eric Belsky, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. "We are losing ground rapidly against a chronic problem that forces households to cut essential spending."

Belsky says that higher rents takes cash from other important household needs.

"With little else to cut in their already tight budgets, America's lowest-income renters with severe cost burdens spend about $130 less on food each month and make similar reductions in health care, clothing and savings," he says. "And while many choose longer commutes to lower their housing costs, the combined cost of housing and transportation means even less remains for other expenses."

Handling higher rents isn't the only problem. Finding decent apartments is a challenge, especially for poorer Americans.

"For many low-income families, the rental housing affordability crisis is like a game of musical chairs in which there is never a chair left for them," says Chris Herbert, research director at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. "The shortfall in the number of units affordable to extremely low-income renters in the U.S. (those earning no more than 30% of the area median) more than doubled from 1.9 million in 2001 to 4.9 million in 2011."