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Generation Z adults share the cost to afford rent in NE Ohio

Alyssa Roberts, Sierra Mason and Justin Gray-Beeson pay rent. While these Generation Z adults live in different cities across Northeast Ohio and earn varying salaries from one another, they've been impacted by rising costs.
Kelly Krabill
Ideastream Public Media
Alyssa Roberts, Sierra Mason and Justin Gray-Beeson pay rent. While these generation z adults live in different cities across Northeast Ohio and earn varying salaries from one another, they've been impacted by rising costs.

Justin Gray-Beeson likes to play music on his record player while cleaning the kitchen. He was doing just that on a Saturday afternoon in January because he was getting ready to have friends over to watch a Cleveland Browns game.

“A lot of people still get mail here that don't necessarily live here anymore,” Gray-Beeson said.

Justin Gray-Beeson sits in his bedroom in Jackson Township, which is a suburb of Canton.
Kelly Krabill
Ideastream Public Media
Justin Gray-Beeson works in Cleveland. He might get a promotion that includes a raise. "Maybe then I could afford something a little bit nicer closer to work," he said. "But for right now I'm comfy here, [I] love the affordability, and I like living with a roommate. He's a good friend of mine."

Gray-Beeson is 26 years old and lives in Jackson Township, an affluent suburb of Canton. He shares rent with his friend from high school. That friend’s mom owns the three-bedroom house.

“I’m in a very unique situation that just allows me to not be just scraping by, but that’s not the case at all for most folks my age,” Gray-Beeson said. “And rent's just ridiculous, ridiculously unaffordable for most people.”

Gray-Beeson pays $400 a month for rent, a rate he wouldn’t find conventionally. The average price for an apartment in his area is more than $1,200 per month, according to Realtor.com, which is more than half of his monthly income. He’s like many of his peers who rent — Generation Z adults between the ages of 18 and 27 — he splits the cost with a roommate.

Two-thirds of Gen Z adults are still living with their parents, but of those who are living on their own, 84% are sharing rent with a roommate or partner, according to RentCafe, an online apartment blog. Data used for RentCafe articles comes from Yardi Matrix, a business development and asset management tool.

If a person in their 20s lives alone, they’re typically a professional with a college degree, said Shirley Pikus, the owner of Pikus Real Estate and Property Management in North Canton.

“Probably nine out of 10 there’s some kind of a partner, either a roommate, significant other, something of that nature going on,” Pikus said. “It’s not real often that you get somebody that's living by themselves.”

Renting alone

Sierra Mason lives about 10 blocks from downtown Canton. She’s a 25-year-old single mother who works part-time as a community health worker. She supplements her income through her t-shirt printing business. At least half of her monthly income goes toward rent.

Sierra Mason is putting her daughter Jazz's helmet on before the 4-year-old rides her scooter up and down the sidewalk. Mason's mother, Jennifer Meyer, is sitting with them on the front porch.
Kelly Krabill
Ideastream Public Media
Sierra Mason is putting her daughter's helmet on before 4-year-old Jazz rides her scooter up and down the sidewalk. Mason's mother, Jennifer Meyer, lives with them.

Mason was homeless before moving into this place two years ago. She applied for subsidized housing and got accepted, but she opted out of the help, she said.

“There was just something in my heart telling me I could afford to not live in government assisted housing, and this was gonna be a better choice in the long run, which ultimately it did end up being a better choice. Although I do struggle at some times to pay the bills,” Mason said, as she watched her daughter, Jazz, ride her scooter in front of their townhouse.

Mason’s still trying to pay the current month’s bills. She broke her toe and couldn't work for three weeks, she said.

The rent spike after the pandemic has impacted everyone, Pikus said.

“I think everybody is crunched paying the rentals, I do. I think it’s across the board,” she added.

Across Northeast Ohio, the average cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment varies, according to RentCafe. Akron is more than $800 per month. In Cleveland, it’s more than $1,300 per month.

Renting in Cleveland

Rent has skyrocketed in Cleveland over the last three years, said Robert Simons, a professor of urban studies and real estate at Cleveland State University.

“It went from amazingly affordable to affordable,” Simons explained. “We have not entered the unaffordable range. We can feel the pain. There's some pain there. But compared to other places, people can live in Cleveland without their parents' help.”

Buying or renting in Cleveland is 20% cheaper than the national average, according to RentCafe.

Alyssa Roberts is standing outside of her apartment in her Edgewater neighborhood in Cleveland.
Kelly Krabill
Ideastream Public Media
Alyssa Roberts has lived in her apartment with a roommate for one year. "Prior to that I lived by myself for a year over in Lakewood, and that just got too expensive," she said. If she moves in April after their lease ends, she hopes to live in her next rental for at least two years.

Two-story duplexes line the street of Alyssa Roberts’ Edgewater neighborhood in Cleveland. Roberts has moved every year since college graduation. Currently, the 24-year-old rents the second floor of a house with a roommate.

Roberts recently received a promotion at work that included a raise. She's trying to decide if she’ll stay in her apartment after her lease ends in April. That’s when her roommate plans to move out.

“I think I would be able to afford it, but I would definitely have to scrimp on things, and I don't know if saving for a car would be out of the question,” she said. “I think it would be feasible. I don't know how realistic in the long term it would be.”

A few miles down the road Bella Maffei is doing the dishes in her downtown Cleveland apartment. She’s a senior at Cleveland State University who shares rent with two roommates. They split the nearly $2,000 monthly expense three ways.

Bella Maffei is sitting on a chair in the living room of her downtown Cleveland apartment.
Kelly Krabill
Ideastream Public Media
Bella Maffei plans to move in with her parents to save money after graduation this summer. "I really don't want to move back in with my parents just because I've been on my own," she said. "I like having my own place." Maffei plans to enroll in graduate school. So, once she has enough money saved, she'll look into renting again.

Maffei works three jobs to cover her portion.

“My one friend [lent] me $30 to make ends meet because I’m also waiting on a paycheck that I didn’t get so it’s been a whole mess,” Maffei said.

Better rent prices outside cities

In some rural towns south of Cleveland, rent is more affordable.

Ashland resident William Hershberger pays under $600 a month on rent for his two-bedroom apartment. The building sits behind a brick bungalow house on the same stretch of grass. It's on a country road where houses are spread out. Hershberger is 21 years old. His sister moved in with him about a month ago. They grew up Amish.

“It was a big step,” he said. “It was something that growing up I’ve always looked at people that had left the community or I guess took the step, and I was the first of the family. So, it was especially hard for me.”

Hershberger is a mechanic. He makes enough money to afford his living expenses. He doesn’t think he’ll stay here long-term though. He wants to move to Wooster to be closer to friends, he said.

William Hershberger is standing outside of his Ashland apartment.
Kelly Krabill
Ideastream Public Media
William Hershberger is standing outside of his Ashland apartment.

With the increasing cost of rent, where someone lives makes a difference. Still, prices remain high across the region.

The prices haven't decreased since the pandemic, Pikus said.

High interest rates and housing shortages are still ongoing. Plus, it’s an election year. If there’s a change it will be after November’s presidential election, she said.

But even so, many young adults have figured out how to claim their independence living apart from their parents: They’re sharing the rent.

Kelly Krabill is a multiple media journalist at Ideastream Public Media. Her work includes photography and videography. Her radio and web reporting covers a wide range of topics across Northeast Ohio.