Duluth apartments cheaper and easier to find, report says | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

By: Peter Passi, News Tribune

Apartments in Duluth have become a little easier to find and a bit less expensive to rent, according to a 2009 Housing Indicator Report released by the city on Monday.

Apartments in Duluth have become a little easier to find and a bit less expensive to rent, according to a 2009 Housing Indicator Report released by the city on Monday.

For the first time since Duluth started keeping tabs on the rental market in 2002, rents took a significant dip in 2009. The average residential rent fell from $731 in 2008 to $699 in 2009. That’s a decline of 4.4 percent.

Meanwhile, the vacancy rate for residential rental units in Duluth climbed to 7.5 percent — up from 4 percent in 2000.

Andy Weyrauch, a partner at Shiprock Management of Duluth, said that when his property management company got into the residential market in 2004, waiting lists on rental units were common, meaning that vacancies would be filled almost immediately.

“We’ve seen that change over the last few years,” he said. “There are no waiting lists now, and we’re having to market properties a little more aggressively. That includes sometimes lowering the price to get a unit filled.”

Despite these challenges, Weyrauch said most of the residential rentals Shiprock manages continue to be occupied. He estimated that the overall vacancy rate of Shiprock-managed residential properties is sitting at about 3 percent.

The softening of the rental market came as positive news to Drew Digby, a member of the Duluth Planning Commission as well as a regional labor analyst for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“For many years, there’s been a real disparity between the housing market for renters and owners,” Digby said. “The cost of owning a home was very reasonable, while the cost of renting was pretty high.”

That situation was especially hard on people from the lower end of the income spectrum, Digby noted.

Duluth continues to suffer from a disproportionately large number of people living below the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that means a household income of less than $26,500.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 18.3 percent of Duluth’s residents in 2008 were living in poverty — up from 15.5 percent in 2000.

The local poverty rate was nearly double the percentage of Minnesotans living in poverty in 2008 — 9.6 percent in 2008. Nationally, 13.2 percent of people fell within federal poverty guidelines.

Digby said economic disparities are emerging, even as Duluth is showing early signs of an economic rebound.

“We seem to be recovering a lot faster than other places, and jobs are beginning to grow, but big chunks of the population are still being left behind,” he said.

For more than two decades, Duluth has had a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the state, but so far this year, the city’s rate has been trending slightly lower than the state’s. That’s an encouraging sign, but the local ranks of the working poor remain large, Digby said.

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