Can you build wealth while renting? Maybe. Although it’s certainly more challenging.
Homeownership is still Americans’ number one source of wealth. It serves as a financial reserve to weather financial hardships. But with its benefits (like tax breaks, incentives, and deductions) and large down payment requirements, homeownership tends to favor middle-class and affluent homeowners.
But what about renters? For many, renting is the antithesis to wealth creation. With rent prices soaring—Miami, San Diego and Los Angles rank the highest nationwide—renters spend more of their income on housing, leaving little money to save or invest.
And without opportunities to own and/or build assets, renting increases economic vulnerability. This is particularly the case for African-Americans. Over half of us rent our homes—the largest percentage of renters among all races. We need policies that level the playing field and make wealth-building opportunities more accessible for moderate-income and low-income Americans, homeowners and renters alike.
At the state and local level, programs like Cincinnati’s Cornerstone Corporation for Shared Equity are ahead of the curve with their wealth-building program for renters. The organization’s renter equity program offers participants many of the advantages of homeownership, including earning credits in a financial fund (which can be accessed as cash payments) and being eligible for loans which can be used to purchase a home.
Rent-to-own programs are also a viable option. Tenants can rent for a set period, then when that time is up, they have the option to purchase the home. Typically, a portion of the rent is often credited to the sales price or closing costs. However, there are caveats to these programs. They are often more complicated and expensive than straight renting.
Aside from programs, there are some other ways to lock in, or shave money off, your rent. First, always pay your rent on time. Paying on time (earlier is even better) puts you in great standing with your landlord. Despite the high demand for renters, many landlords admit it is frustrating vetting new tenants. Stay on top of your rent, and while others’ rent is increasing, yours may stay the same.
Also, consider asking the landlord if you can assist in maintaining the property in exchange for lowering your rent. The money saved can be used to save and/or invest.
These suggestions, while maybe helpful, are still far from where we need to be to build wealth equity. A national dialogue in both the public and private sectors is overdue. If we are to create a racially inclusive and prosperous 21st century economy, we need to develop asset-building opportunities that benefit all Americans, not just the wealthiest homeowners.
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Senior Director of the NAACP Economic Department