At least once a month during the three years James Davis lived in his East Brainerd apartment complex, a moving truck would roll in in the middle of the night and a family would quietly pack up and head out under cover of darkness.
“They realized they couldn’t afford things anymore,” Davis said.
Davis watched them go, year after year, as his own rent jumped from $519 to $619 to $690.
“It was going up faster than my rate of pay was going up, until it got to where I was struggling to pay the rent and the bills,” he said. “I had to economize. Get rid of cable. Not eat out as much.”
When the apartment complex asked for $690 for the one-bedroom unit, Davis moved out. Now he’s living in a two-bedroom place in North Georgia — with one-and-a-half baths and a backyard — for $500 a month.
And he’s not the only renter in Chattanooga facing rising costs — the Scenic City now sports some of the nation’s fastest-growing rents. Of 200 cities tracked between 2007 and 2012, Chattanooga ranks seventh for fastest-rising median rents, with rents increasing 26 percent during the five-year period, according to online finance adviser NerdWallet.
That means that, on the whole, rents in Chattanooga are going up faster than rents in New York City. Rents went up 22 percent in the Big Apple during the same period.
“Chattanooga is attracting companies and attracting workers,” said Divya Raghavan, senior analyst at NerdWallet. “It’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Economic growth is a good thing — but it could be pricing out long-term residents, the people who already live in Chattanooga. Rent is also rising for them, so that could be negative.”
Most Chattanooga apartment complexes are full. The city’s average occupancy rate is about 95 percent, according to Rock Apartment Advisors, a Birmingham, Ala., company that tracks Chattanooga’s apartment market. No apartment properties in Chattanooga are less than 80 percent full, and only five are less than 90 percent full, the firm found.
Justin Uffinger, associate at Rock Apartment Advisors, said Chattanooga’s consistently high occupancy rates coupled with the city’s growing popularity among young workers are what’s driving rents up. The company’s annual survey found that Chattanooga’s average rent jumped by 21 percent between 2008 and 2013, spurred in large part by big employers like Volkswagen and Amazon coming to town.
And Uffinger doesn’t expect the prices to drop anytime soon.
“It’s the people you’re attracting to your market,” he said. “You have all these incubators downtown that are attracting all these young technology companies. Between age 25 and 30, those are your prime young renters, the ones who are willing to pay more to live in the hip and up-and-coming areas.”