Meet Devona Rollins, a single woman raising three children in Detroit.
“Between the rent, the utilities, the car, the insurance, the groceries, there’s not a lot left over,” she says.
Rollins has overcome drug addiction, owns her own business, and has moved her family to a safer neighborhood, but the pursuit for a better life comes with big challenges.
A new campaign is giving voice to Rollins and the 11 million families struggling to make rent each month. One in four renters spend half their income on housing and utilities.
With rents rapidly rising across the country, more and more families will likely face severe housing cost burdens. They will be left walking a tightrope for when so much of a family’s budget goes toward keeping a roof over their head they have less money to spend on other essentials like food and medicine.
The Make Room campaign has visited with a diverse group of renters, who are sharing their stories. In addition to Rollins, there’s been a working family in Los Angeles, a single mother in Nashville, a millennial in Denver.
“People have been unbelievably open with their stories,” says Angela Boyd, vice president of advocacy at Enterprise Community Partners, the sponsoring partner behind Make Room.
In addition to opening up their lives, they’ve been opening their doors. To call attention to the struggles of many renters, Make Room has been staging living-room concerts, bringing musicians in to perform for the families. R&B singer Miguel performed at the Rollins’ home.
The “Concerts for the First” have also featured Carly Rae Jepsen and other artists. Videos capturing the intimate performances as well as the stories of the families are released on the campaign website on the first of the month—the day the rent is due.
The affordable housing industry has been good about telling the stories of people who have been helped by affordable housing. Make Room goes a step further.
“Through this series we wanted to create some urgency by saying this is happening right now,” says Boyd. “This family is not going to be able to make rent next week.”
In November, the campaign is highlighting Devin Hallford, a bar manager and aspiring graphic artist struggling to afford an apartment in Denver. The band American Authors performed for Hallford and guests.
At the same time, Make Room released information about Denver’s housing market, reporting that Colorado has the second-highest percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds living with roommates in the United States. Of the 755,100 25- to 34-year-olds in Colorado, more than 88,000, or 11.7%, lived with roommates in 2013. This is a noticeable increase from 2005, when only 60,500, or 8.6%, of the 701,600 25- to 34-year-olds lived with roommates. Colorado is preceded by Massachusetts, where 13.2% of 25- to 34-year-olds lived with roommates in 2013.
Looking ahead, Boyd expects that Make Room will be working more closely with state and local advocates to accelerate the work they are doing on the ground.
Campaign partners include the MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, and CohnReznick.