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High rent prices are pushing young adults to take political action

Young adults in Denver are getting involved in local politics to fight back against rising rent prices.
Posted at 3:13 PM, Apr 06, 2023

Canvassing takes persistence — and that's something grad student Trish Hyde has. When issues on the ballot directly impact her ability to thrive, Hyde believes it's her kind of persistence that will facilitate change, especially when it comes to protecting renters like her and her partner.

"It's like insult to injury — how expensive it is to not be able to live where your life is," said Hyde, who was trying to convince Denver, Colorado college students to vote in a recent election. 

"Trying to afford rent and also groceries is a huge, huge struggle," she said. 

Rediet Moges, who was canvassing alongside Hyde, has also experienced rental hardships. 

"Every year, when we tried to sign a new lease, it would go up by like $300 and then, slowly, it would just keep going up," she said. 

Moges says housing is one of the reasons she does this kind of work.

"We all feel this sense of hopelessness. Even though we are out here ... even though we are giving it so much, it just feels like nobody's listening to us and we're dismissed by the government," she said. 

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Nicole Hensel is the executive director of New Era Colorado, a nonpartisan nonprofit that helps get young people involved in the political process. It's the organization both Moges and Hyde canvass for.

New Era recently conducted a survey that shows young adults ages 18 to 34 want bold action from lawmakers regarding housing, regardless of their political affiliation.

She says 8 in 10 of those young adults want governments to be able to limit rent increases by landlords. And 9 in 10 said they favor policies that would ensure "reasonable, predictable rents."

"Our elected officials are seeing that young people can shape the course of our future, electorally, and so they should probably start paying attention to the things that [young people] care about and what they want," said Hensel. 

Around the country, data shows that rent hits young people especially hard. According to the Pew Research Center, a third of renting households are headed by someone under 35. They faced rent increases between 2019 and 2021 at twice the rate of inflation.

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Nationwide, there has been a rise in tenant unions — voting blocs that advocate for housing rights for renters — that now can be found in about half of states.

Young adults taking action makes sense; according to Bank of America research, the median rent price for Gen Z jumped 16% in 2022, compared to 2021. The median rent for baby boomers rose only 3%.

Hyde says she has seen more and more of her peers get involved with political action like she has, inspired by how unaffordable housing has become. 

"It's been really cool to see how many young people are getting out there and donating their time and volunteering and finding campaign jobs in a local election," Hyde said. 

The wheels of change churn slowly at the government level, but young adults moved by the lack of affordable housing say they have no choice but to get involved.

"If we can't afford to live where we want to work or where it's convenient to get to work, that limits our job prospects and our career aspirations considerably," Hyde said.