Doctoral Dissertations

Orcid ID

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Madhuri Sharma

Committee Members

Nicholas Nagle, Solange Muñoz, Ronald Foresta, Avigail Sachs


Rent burden has become a widespread problem for many tenants in the twenty-first century America. In this dissertation, I situate this important issue within human geography. The first article reviews a prodigious amount of scholarship at the nexus of rentership, rental affordability, and rent burden. I highlight the most prominent themes in these scholarships and reveal previously unidentified lacunae that are fulfilled in this article and are offered as possible directions for future research. Stemming from some identified gaps—lack of intra-urban research on rent burden and no consideration of regional economic specializations—the second article tests whether rent burden is explained by the same phenomena in hot and cold housing markets. To do so, I select Nashville and Memphis to conduct an intra-urban analysis using cartographic and spatial regression methodologies. I find that rent burden is a very significant issue in Memphis’ cold housing market and that rent burden in Nashville is poorly explained by socioeconomic status, thus alluding to some differences in regional economic specializations and the overall health of the economy. These findings suggest examining rent burden at the metropolitan level in the conterminous U.S., since rent burden is not an exclusive issue of hot housing markets. With this intent, in the third article I develop a typology of U.S. metropolitan areas focusing on their rent burden and its drivers. This typology has seven types and I examine their spatial patterns and detailed profiles to understand variations of rent burden across different types. In the fourth article, I estimate numerous specifications of regression models to uncover relationships between my original rent burden index and various characteristics including regional economic specializations. I then test the same relationships using three size groupings of metropolitan areas to analyze size-specific phenomena that associate with rent burden. I provide evidence that manufacturing is a strong predictor of lower rent burden in most models, that is, higher rent burden is found in metropolises not specializing in manufacturing. At the same time, metropolises specializing in education, medicine, arts, entertainment, and recreation exhibit higher rent burden and most of them are mid- and small-sized.

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