The Johnsons’ arrangement is temporary while they shop for a house, but for many Anniston residents, renting is a way of life. Anniston residents rent homes at a higher rate than most of their Calhoun County neighbors.
Renter-occupied housing is much more common in Anniston compared to the rest of the county, according to 2012 estimates based on 2010 Census data compiled by Esri, a geographic information systems software company. Experts say the higher rates could be spurred by a number of factors, including economic insecurity. In some areas south of 10th Street and east of Quintard Avenue, more Anniston residents own their homes.
According to 2010 Census data accessed through the Alabama State Data Center at the University of Alabama, nearly 69 percent of Calhoun County families live in owner-occupied homes. According to 2010 Census data on the city of Anniston’s website, the home-ownership rate in the Model City is 58.4 percent. Nearly 25 percent of families live in multi-unit buildings, a figure that does not account for rented single-family homes.
More precise data was unavailable from the Census Bureau on today due to the federal government shutdown.
ealth vs. mobility
Teshome Gabre, a professor of community planning and urban studies at Alabama A&M University, said higher concentrations of rental housing can be an indicator of lower median incomes and education rates in a community.
“When you own a house, you are now accumulating wealth,” he said. “If you don’t have a house, you are not accumulating wealth. You work, eat, buy clothes, buy shoes...They are living check to check to survive.”
But Erika Poethig, director of urban policy initiatives at the Urban Institute, said higher rental rates are not necessarily problematic.
“Renting can be a positive in the sense that your folks are more mobile,” she said. “That can represent a positive feature of the labor market, that they can certainly move around.”
However, there is cause for concern, Poethig said, if an area has low quality of rental housing.
The city of Anniston in recent years has worked to ensure rental housing stock in Anniston is safe and up to standards.
City Code Enforcement Officer Tana Bryant said the city has performed hundreds of rental inspections since the council passed an ordinance that requires the documents before new tenants move into rental units: 652 in the 2013 fiscal year, 853 in fiscal year 2012, and 722 in fiscal year 2011.
“The rental business is really good, there’s no doubt about that,” said Larry Jones, president of the Calhoun County Board of Realtors.
“The uncertainty of the economy is probably a big factor right now,” he said of the active rental market. “People may be nervous ... that may be the reason they would prefer right now not to buy and see how things will happen.”
Braxton Harris owns Lagarde Tower, where Johnson and his family are living while looking for a house.
Harris said the 67 Lagarde properties on 10th Street have a 100 percent occupancy rate.
“Occupancy rate is high because of the problem with people buying homes,” he said, noting the difficulty some people have had securing loans.
“People are petrified,” added Debbie Carter, a realtor with Century 21 Harris-McKay Realty. She said they’re worried about what is going on with their government, what’s going on with their jobs, with buying groceries and the cost of sending their kids to school.
Carter said that for residents looking for new housing, a year-long lease commitment is much less frightening than a 30-year mortgage.
“At this point, rent prospects for them are much better for them even with the low interest rates, because they know in 12 months they’re obligation free,” she said.
Jones said it’s definitely still a buyer’s market.
“For people that would want to buy and are capable of buying now, prices are still low, there’s a large inventory to choose from, and interest rates are still very low,” he said.
Johnson, the new city manager, said Tuesday that he and his family — wife Cheri, and children Elias, 4, and Ilona, 6 — are looking for a permanent home and hope to move into a house within six months.
Johnson said he’s already got his eye on a couple of houses, which he and his family will look at over the coming months.
“We did not want to make a quick decision,” Johnson said Wednesday.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.