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Data drop: Wilmington in top 12% of cities for rent increases in the country

On the bright side, average rents declined slightly between September and October this year. On the not-so-bright side, rents have gone up 60% since January 2017 — more than double the country's average.

Wilmington's hot real estate market extends into rentals, and it's among the most dramatic increases in the entire country.

In January of 2017, Wilmington's average rent was $893. Last month, it sat at $1,430, according to data from apartmentlist.com.

The nation's average rent now sits at $1,371/month. A household would need to make $54,840 a year to afford that rent without being "housing burdened." And in Wilmington, where rent tops $1400, that ratio is even higher.

Wilmington's dramatic rise took it from below-average rents in 2017 to above-average in 2022. In that five-year period, Wilmington's rents rose 60%, compared to the country's average of 33%. Out of 533 cities with available data, Wilmington ranked 48th for fastest rent increases.

While other cities saw a sag in rental prices during the pandemic, Wilmington's rents continued to steadily rise. Wilmington's 60% increase since 2017 compares unfavorably to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where rent increases have stayed below inflation, even as the city's population continues to grow. Compared to 2017, rents have grown only 1% there, even as the population has grown.

Some analysts point to the large number of new housing units being built each year as a possible cause for the flat rental rate in Minneapolis. That city's affordable housing gap is shrinking, while Wilmington's affordable housing shortage will likely grow to 10,000 units by the end of the decade.

Portland, similarly to Minneapolis, got rid of exclusionary zoning, and now allows previously single-family zoned lots to build duplexes, triplexes, and four-plexes instead. The city also began allowing new apartments to be built in more neighborhoods. That's a major contrast to Wilmington, where the vast majority of residentially zoned land forbids anything except a single-family house.

Other cities fair far worse: Knoxville, Tennessee tops the list, with an 88% increase in rents from January 2017 to October 2022.

Wilmington's renters are in a dire situation, and it's forecasted to get worse in coming years as demand outstrips supply. Advocates point to options like inclusionary zoning (requiring a portion of a project to be affordable), investments in affordable housing, or upzoning (allowing denser projects) as possible solutions.

It's worth noting that, in North Carolina, a 1987 law bans rent control — and inclusionary zoning could also face legal challenges. But, of course, those laws could be changed.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.