“Help,” Molly Grace typed in all caps.
The 36-year-old was desperate after Grace’s landlord told her the rent for the Chapel Hill home she shared with her son was going up from $1,000 to $1,800 a month.
“We can’t find a home,” she wrote on a simple one-page flyer that led hundreds of Triangle residents to join her search. “We have been looking for a month with absolutely no luck. We are running out of time.”
In August, Grace printed out 100 flyers and also slapped the text on her Instagram, where it spread like wildfire. Messages poured in, and the handful of flyers she had time to hang before her cellphone was inundated caught the eyes of social media users.
Grace was searching for a two- or three bedroom rental in Durham or Raleigh for under $1,500 a month, about the median for a two-bedroom, most sites report.
But there was one major obstacle: her credit score.
Grace’s score was around 575, a reflection of student loans, medical debt after surviving cervical cancer, and years making poverty wages. She started a $70,000 job at a coworking company last year and finally has health insurance, but that hasn’t always been the case.
“Most of my adult life I have made between $13,000 a year and $20,000 a year which is very, very low, especially for a single mother,” she said. “People always think that people who are poor are irresponsible with money, people with (expletive) credit scores are irresponsible with money. And it’s like, no, when you don’t have much, what little you have, you’re not going to put towards debt. It’s just not even an option.”
She said despite having a guarantor and spotless rental history, most landlords were unwilling to take a chance on her. She said many places wouldn’t even grant her a tour.
With occupancy rates topping 97% for the first time earlier this year, according to commercial real estate firm Avison Young, most places aren’t having any problem finding tenants.
“So many people have been like, yeah, I mean, maybe just leave the area,” Grace said. “That is tempting. Like, I don’t want to leave, but this area doesn’t want to take care of people.”
Rent in much of the nation has skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Here’s where median prices for a two-bedroom in the Triangle stood in August, according to Apartment List:
- Raleigh: $1,537 (up 11.9% since last year and 33.8% since March 2020)
- Durham: $1,498 (up 12.1% since last year and 31.2% since March 2020)
- Chapel Hill: $1,492 (up 18.7% since last year and 38.7% since March 2020)
Avison Young’s regional sales and leasing director John Linderman said occupancy rates have been above 95% for years now, but called the degree to which availability had narrowed “unprecedented.”
“We’re still pretty tight. I don’t think that rate has slipped any,” Linderman said Friday. “It’s just frustrating. I feel for those folks. I really do.”
All told, Grace saw 47 rental units and pursued 37 of them — an effort that was all-consuming and dinged her credit score even farther. It’s now at 520. A rental application often involves a “hard credit inquiry,” which can lower a credit score by a few points for two years, according to Credit Karma.
“I have not been able to work. I still try to work every day, but I’m at my computer and I’m not working. I’m just looking at places; I’m making phone calls,” she recounted, grateful for an understanding boss. “Food and shelter and water. Like those are the things we need first and foremost, before anything else and I’m about to lose the one.”
Then finally, in the last week of August, a breakthrough.
A $1,300 two-bedroom unit owned by an independent landlord in Durham’s Lakewood neighborhood would be available in September. She said at least a dozen people shared the listing with her after it hit the neighborhood listserv and the owners were understanding and wanted to help out.
Grace and her 12-year-old will be moving in on the 15th.
“I’m so relieved,” she said. “It was through all the community effort entirely.”
This story was originally published September 6, 2022 9:51 AM.
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