Affordability and Pets: Rising Costs are Forcing Tough Decisions for Renters

The rising cost of goods as well as rental rates underscores the need for innovative new strategies to keep people and pets together.

By Judy Bellack, Industry Principal, The Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative

As we’ve all heard, U.S. inflation hit a 40-year high of 9.1% in June, impacting everything from gas and groceries to housing and travel. The most recent Yardi Matrix survey shows that June average asking rents were at an all-time high of $1,706. And according to Multifamily Dive, the rental industry has now seen 15 straight months of year-over-year renewal improvements – the average price for a 12-month renewal was $1,639 in July, up 16% from one year earlier. In some major metros, rents have skyrocketed as much as 40%.

While those of us in the rental housing industry understand that there are many reasons behind the record-setting hikes – including a shortage of millions of housing units across all price points, coinciding with historic demand for apartments, and decades of failed housing policy at all levels of government (resulting in zoning laws that prevent construction of high-density housing)  – the fact remains that these dynamics are creating challenges for renters seeking housing within their budget while also meeting essential needs.

One of those essential needs is keeping pets — cherished family members — in the face of cumulative rising costs. According to pet care site Rover’s True Cost of Pet Parenthood Report 2022, 71% of dog parents claim they’ve noticed increasing pet-related costs due to inflation. Pet Age, a business-to-business pet news company, tells us that pet costs are up 7.1% YTD on the Consumer Price Index. Climbing rent and higher pet care costs are a brutal combination for many pet owners, at times forcing a heart-wrenching decision to surrender a beloved pet. Alternatively, as renters opt to move to more affordable housing, much of which may not allow their specific pet due to size or weight restrictions, the decision to make a budget-compelled move may also mean surrendering or rehoming a pet.

Take the case of the Pima Animal Care Center in Tucson, Arizona. A year ago, housing-related surrenders made up 6% of the shelter’s surrenders – now they make up 18%. This is a trend that is clearly repeating across the country; according to Shelter Animals Count, a national database tracking shelter census, 6% more animals have entered shelters than have left. That’s a disturbing trend for overcrowded shelters struggling to care for these animals and for pets and pet parents experiencing traumatic separation.

In an article from iHeartDogs, Animal Care Centers of New York City have seen owner surrenders at their shelters up by 25% in the first half of 2022. According to director of sales and marketing Katy Hansen, “There have been a lot of stories out there saying, ‘Oh, the pandemic pets are being returned. That’s not what we’re finding. The increase in surrenders that we’re finding are from family-owned pets. They’ve owned these pets for years. They’re in a financial situation that they can’t get out of.” Simultaneously, adoption rates are falling, likely because of concerns with the cost of bringing a pet into the home.

These are just a few of the stories that seem to be occurring across the nation. At Humane Indiana in Munster, Indiana, director Jessica Petalas tells us that “we have seen a huge influx of owner surrender requests. I’d say in the last eight years, this is the most I’ve ever seen. It’s at least doubled, and sometimes it’s triple the amount that we’re normally used to. A lot of people, the cost of housing has put them in a position where they have to move in with family or friends, and they can’t take their animals with them. We do have some people that are still feeling some of the effects from COVID and being out of work, and they’ve been evicted. And there’s really a lack of pet-friendly housing available in our area.” While shelters like Humane Indiana can help with a temporary housing crisis through their crisis foster program (30-60 days), Petalas says the most impactful way the community can help is to adopt or foster an animal.

So, how can we help keep families and their pets together? A few suggestions:

  • Consider temporarily suspending pet rent or other pet fees for residents who have let you know they’re struggling with a renewal increase or have shared that they don’t know if they can keep their pet. Often, residents just need a little time to make it all work.
  • Is it time to review your pet policies? As pet-owning renters are shopping around for better deals, perhaps they can find a home in your community if size and breed restrictions are relaxed (according to the Pet-Inclusive Housing Report, 76% of pet owners say rental housing is hard to find, largely due to restrictions)
  • Donate to your local shelter! As shelter counts rise, donations become critically important in order to handle the care and feeding of these pets
  • Are you an animal lover? Consider fostering an animal, or even adopting one.

As the pet parent of three dogs (and many others over the years), I can’t even imagine being faced with the unthinkable decision to surrender one of our family pets. However, this is a reality for many people at the moment, and we have such a great opportunity as an industry to help families and pets avoid this traumatic experience. The goodwill fostered by a little bit of flexibility and a lot of empathy goes a long way for our industry at a time when public perception falls as rental rates rise.