Apartment Rent is the Latest Challenge in Employee Retention

Blackboard sign reading "Rent is Too High"

Hiring managers, bosses, bean counters – listen up. When your potential new employee looks up “Apartments near me” on Google, or when your high-performing employees come in begging for what seems like an unreasonable pay increase, there’s a new motivation behind it. It’s not just about the habitually low salaries made in local media and communications jobs. It’s because they aren’t going to have a place to live if you don’t see the bigger picture.

Rent Rates Reach Record High

Rental rates are at record highs, with year-to-year increases averaging 17.5% in 2021. Employees who might actually love their jobs and be willing to work out their contracts are facing a grim reality when their apartment lease comes up.

I was insanely frustrated when my Nebraska apartment wanted to charge me 9% more (a $130 increase), and I got the “market price..” and “property tax..” explanations from several levels of my apartment company management. It turns out, I’m one of the lucky ones.

I’ve seen people in various social media forums talking about an $800 – $1000 increase in rent over the past few months. Where you could once consider getting an apartment for $1000, now that’s a studio apartment for $1400.

“Said every renter.. everywhere.”

My curious nature led me to my old apartment in Sarasota. I paid $1600, which was already an unthinkable rent for a one-bedroom basic apartment. I knew the cost of living in Florida was higher, so I absorbed it. That same apartment is now $2530.

The rental increases are up in 97 of the largest 100 cities in the country. Even those who might make a higher salary in places like New York City are staring down a 27% rental increase without rent control.

Rethink Raises

I’m not going to dig into all the data that will blow your mind, because this is more of a heads-up than a dissertation to defend, but you should really talk to your employees. Then talk to the keepers of the budget.

Adding insult to injury, it’s not even just about wanting to make more money or to feel more valued. It’s now mandatory for people to be able to live. I’m actually downsizing in apartment size as I grow my own business, but I’m still going to be paying $100 more. Gone are the days of “first month free” and “1/2 deposits if you sign today.”

If rent goes up on personal budgets already stretched to the point of breaking, this could mean your employees will have to move to cheaper apartments, which could mean an unsafe part of town. It could mean they’d rather pay you to break your contract than absorb the high rate of increase with no end in sight.

A wonderful motivation happens to a dormant employee who doesn’t want to deal with the rental increase and they might start seeking jobs that pay exponentially more. Not being able to afford groceries is a real wake-up call, or watching 80% of your income go to rent will motivate anyone to avoid homelessness.

Even Working from Home Doesn’t Fix the Problem

For the hordes of people who love working at home, like me, it stops being a benefit when “home” is unaffordable. Especially when there is an uncompensated cost of high-speed internet to accompany the requirements. With gas prices being so high, even the workers who were okay with a hybrid model of work no longer want to waste the miles on work they could do at home.

Be Part of the Solution

Why was I motivated to write this? Because many of the people who make the budget decisions are living in lush houses with a set APR and are probably on the bottom half of their mortgage payments. The days of renting are long gone, and you can’t understand why your employees *need a 20% raise, not just a 3% cost of living raise that doesn’t even really cover the cost of living increase.

So what can you do?

  • Add a signing bonus for housing deposits and payments
  • Create “preferred employer” deals with major apartment chains or hyper-local complexes.
  • Plan budgets to increase pay that accompanies the rental rates. It’s going to take about a decade to get things back on track, according to various rental housing sites I reviewed. Need a guideline? Here you go.

It’s not even an issue of being understaffed any longer. There are some newsrooms that are damn near “no staffed.” It has just become okay to not have what was once considered mandatory staffing levels because the candidates just aren’t there anymore. We used to be able to claim “there are dozens of people waiting in line behind you.” That line is gone. There is no backup plan, and candidates know it.

Having been a department-level manager, I know this isn’t easy to hear and there’s no magical pot of money you haven’t been spending that you can dip into. However, it’s the cost of doing business. Treat your employees’ salaries with the same tenacity you do on the Retrans agreements. This is another advancement in the business that has to be dealt with and adjusted to keep getting information to communities. A liveable wage has changed in the short time since you last discussed a liveable wage.

I’m just your Paul Revere letting you know the British are coming by land AND sea.

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