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Cost of rent explodes in Tucson area

The ability to work remotely has some high-wage earners moving to Tucson for a better climate...
The ability to work remotely has some high-wage earners moving to Tucson for a better climate and lower cost of living. That is causing a low vacancy rate and higher costs.(KEYC Photo, File)
Published: Jul. 5, 2021 at 6:51 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - According to Apartment List, rents in Tucson went up 2% in June.

Compare that to the past few years and one can see just how fast the rents are increasing in the Old Pueblo.

These numbers are supplied by Apartment List

  • June 2017: +0.8% month-over-month
  • June 2018: +0.5%
  • June 2019: +0.5%
  • June 2020: +0.7%
  • June 2021: +2.0%

There are several reasons for the spike, not the least of which is the coronavirus pandemic.

For the first time, many high-wage earners discovered they could work remotely. That is they could work from home and it doesn’t really matter where they live.

“We’re seeing high rates of migration among that group of people that previously weren’t moving as much,” said Rob Warnock, a senior research associate at Apartment List. “It’s not the whole of it but it certainly plays a part.”

Many are moving from high-rent areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco and even New York. They are leaving for a better climate, but mid-range cities like Tucson also provide liveability at better prices.

But that puts pressure not only on the rental market but also the housing market. Housing prices in Tucson have soared nearly 25% in the past year making the average price just under $300,000.

That means some may need to stay in rentals rather than purchase a home immediately.

“These higher-income individuals are being held in the rental market for longer than they otherwise would have,” he said. “You can see how that would put pressure on rents if more people are competing for space.”

According to Warnock, the Tucson vacancy rate is somewhere around 4%, which is less than half what it would be under normal circumstances.

Apartment List pegs the average two-bedroom rental in Tucson at $1,189 per month.

It puts Tucson about in the middle of the pack when it comes to cost but Tucson is also a low-wage town so it puts a strain on affordability.

“We’re looking at rent increases which are five to ten times faster right now than we’re used to seeing,” he said. “Tucson has been a growing market since well before the pandemic, but COVID has accelerated some of that, especially in the past six to 12 months.”

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