Rent Burden

How do Renters Cope with Unaffordability?

The Los Angeles region faces a deep and worsening housing affordability crisis. A team of researchers from the USC Price Center for Social Innovation—led by Jovanna Rosen, Sean Angst, Soledad De Gregorio, and Gary Painter—conducted an in-person, door-to-door survey of 800 Los Angeles renter households to better understand the impacts of the housing affordability crisis in our region. The project aimed to understand how rental affordability operates, uncovering how it impacts residents in Los Angeles specifically, and how its effects differ across populations. Surveys were conducted during 2019, in Spanish and English, across the Los Angeles Promise Zone (LAPZ), in Central Los Angeles, and the South Los Angeles Promise Zone (SLATE-Z).

This report presents the first set of findings from the survey conducted in 2019, focused on understanding the coping strategies and adjustments that renters in Los Angeles make in response to high rents. 

*Note: This work is under review for publication. Reach out to Megan Goulding at [email protected] for more information on the report.*

Photo credit: Sean Angst.


Survey results suggest that high rents may force Los Angeles households to cut back on critical basic needs in impactful and lasting ways, the effects of which differ across groups and places.

  • 73% of households were rent-burdened, spending over 30% of household income on rent and utilities. 48% were severely rent-burdened, spending over 50% of household income on rent and utilities.
    • White and Asian households were less likely to be rent-burdened than Latino and Black households.
    • Households surveyed in Spanish were more likely to be rent-burdened than households surveyed in English.
    • Households with lower levels of education and/or with fewer working adults were more likely to be rent-burdened.
  • A majority of households have cut back their consumption of basic needs over the past two years in order to afford rent, including food, clothing, and entertainment and family activities. Many have acquired more debt as well. Rent-burdened households were more likely to have made cutbacks on food, clothing, and transportation than non-rent-burdened households.
    • Many cutbacks have become semi-permanent shifts that impact residents’ quality of life, as opposed to temporary coping strategies.
    • Household cutbacks appear larger and more enduring in Central Los Angeles, where housing costs have been rising more sharply and for longer than in South Los Angeles.
    • Interestingly, these data show no large differences in cutbacks across immigrant and U.S.- born households. Immigrant and U.S.-born households have similar rent burden rates and make similar tradeoff decisions, though they differ in income levels and housing consumption.
  • One in five respondents reported being unable to pay for an unexpected $400 expense, with rent-burdened households less likely to be able to pay.

USC Price School of Public Policy PhD Candidate and Price Center affiliated researcher Sean Angst recently launched Affordable South LA, a new website that aims to uplift and  spotlight community voices in South Los Angeles. The new Affordable South LA site features the voices of residents discussing their experiences with rising rents and neighborhood change in the region, as well as original photographs which show how residents have made these neighborhoods their homes. The site also features a map of community services in South LA neighborhoods. Visit to explore the site.

This work was made possible through generous partnerships with community organizations. These partners include CDTech, Community Coalition, SCOPE, SAJE, Esperanza Community Housing, and T.R.U.S.T. South LA. 


Jovanna Rosen
Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Rutgers University-Camden

Sean Angst
Post-Doc Fellow, USC Equity Research Institute

Soledad De Gregorio
Associate, Abt Associates

Gary Painter headshot

Gary Painter
Director of the Homelessness Policy Research Institute

A team of undergraduate and Masters students from the University of Southern California also assisted the team with data collection for this project.


READ: Housing Affordability in the Wake of COVID-19

READ: With evictions looming, a new administration presents an opportunity to address the housing affordability crisis

READ: Data Story: Rising Rent Burden in Los Angeles

READ: The Pervasive Impacts of Rent Increases in City Heights

Read the research report here, or view the brief in English here, and the brief in Spanish here.

READ: Many L.A. renters cut back on basic needs to make rent, USC Price Center study shows

READ: Even before the pandemic, struggling L.A. renters cut back on food, clothes and transportation

LISTEN: Housing Affordability Podcast Discussion with the Bedrosian Center

Watch the full discussion here, or watch the highlight reel here.


This research represents the first set of analyses from the 2019 housing affordability survey. Future research will draw from additional survey data to build new insight into resident moves and housing histories; perceptions of neighborhood change; household composition and formation; and resident stress.

Our research is made possible through generous funding from the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, and USC Lusk Center for Real Estate. This research has also benefited from numerous collaborations with partners in the two Los Angeles Promise Zones (LAPZ and SLATE-Z), as well as CDTech, Community Coalition, SCOPE, SAJE, Esperanza Community Housing, and T.R.U.S.T. South L.A.

Stay Informed

If you would like to receive updates and developments about our rent burden research, please subscribe to our Newsletter in the footer below.  If you have questions about the study, please contact Megan Goulding, Director of External Relations at [email protected].