Salena Acox rolled into the Twin Cities from Austin, Texas four summers ago.
"I had no family here, no friends, I didn't know anyone," she says. "I moved here because of the appeal. I thought Minnesota would be a place where I would enjoy living."
Acox first sub-letted, then rented a room before making a one-bedroom, ground floor apartment home in the Powderhorn section of Minneapolis.
The place came cheap at $595 a month, electricity excluded.
"I was doing temp work at the time and didn't have much money," says Acox. "But I found this place I could afford. It wasn't very big, maybe 500 feet, and there was a boiler room that took up like half of the space. But it was cheap and that's why I stayed."
Until earlier this year.
Acox landed a job as program manager at The Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota, a nonprofit focusing on such things as education and housing. The position pays $52,000 annually, and since she'd gotten a dog, she decided to look for a new place.
"I started looking around April," says the 34-year-old California native. "I had it in my mind that I wasn't going to spend more than $900. I have [$420 in monthly student loans] that eat up a chunk of my income. It didn't take very long for that [rent] number to keep going up."
Duplexes and one-bedroom houses in her preferred south Minneapolis neighborhoods — anything that offered a yard for her pup — were running no less than $1,000 per month.
"There was one landlord who had a house advertised at first for $1,025 and when I spoke to him — I think it was later on that day — the rent had gone up to $1,075," Acox says. "When I asked him about it, he said, 'Yeah, I increased it because there were so many people interested.'"
Rent costs in the Twin Cities are squeezing working folks at historic proportions.
According to a recent analysis by the real estate web site Zillow, almost 26 percent of the average renter's income is eaten up by the landlord. In the past rent has consumed about 20 cents out of every dollar earned.
According to the "Twin Cities Rent Report," published in April by Zumper, a website focusing on renting across America, the median one-bedroom in Minneapolis goes for $1,280 a month, $950 in St. Paul, $1,120 in Minnetonka, and $1,080 in Woodbury.
It was about a year ago when City Pages ran a story noting that the average rent across all unit types topped $1,000 for the first time on record.
A perfect storm of demographic and economic factors in recent years has resulted in the pinch, according to Leigh Rosenberg, director of research and communications at the Minnesota Housing Partnership.
The renter pool expanded when families lost homes to foreclosures. Seniors entered the market as they downsized from suburban homes. Post-recession job creation has often been at fast food wages, while most new constructions has targeted the up-and-coming and well-to-do.
"What our data shows us is that for about half of the renters across the state, 30 percent of income goes to rent," says Rosenberg. "While for another quarter of them, it's closer to 50 percent of income."
Salena Acox's lease for a one-bedroom place in Longfellow began June 1. The small house cost $1,075 per month.
But within weeks, Acox was back on the market. The house had serious mold problems.
"When I started looking again," says Acox, "I was like, 'Oh my goodness! What happened in the past two or three months?' The places that were going for, say, $1,050 to $1,100, were now being advertised at $1,200 and $1,300 a month."