When 24-year-old Mike Maleski struck a deal to first rent and then buy a starter home in Pittsburgh, Pa., the auto shop owner thought his dream was in reach. But home ownership is further away than he expected.

Saving for the down payment was hard for Maleski. He put away a portion of every paycheck for the past year, but rent, utilities and taxes got in the way from saving as much as he wants to. At his current savings rate, it will be three years before Maleski owns his home.

Home ownership is tough for renters, like Maleski, who are juggling high rents and other expenses like utilities, student loans, and car payments. More people are renting than before, and these rising costs are preventing many people from taking advantage of the current, affordable housing market conditions.

“People are having trouble saving,” said Dee Taylor of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission.

The move away from home ownership to renting began with the 2008 financial crisis. Economic instability and a lack of job prospects discouraged people from moving, and they became wary of investing in property.

From 2007 to 2012, the number of renter-occupied housing units rose 13.5%, while owner-occupied units fell 1.8%, according to U.S. census data.

Renting has increased across most age groups. Some long-term owners whose homes went into foreclosure during the housing crisis are still renting. Empty nesters are also entering the rental market when they downsize their homes.

Apartment dwelling is especially popular among young people who want the flexibility of being able to move wherever jobs are available, said Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland.

However, this trend toward renting doesn’t mean people don’t want to own. They do.

“It’s an investment towards stability at a later point in life,” said Maleski. “Owning a home is a stepping-stone in life.”

But rising rents are making the transition from renter to homeowner more difficult. Over the last year, median rental prices rose 10.3% to $1,600, according to the March 2014 Zillow Real Estate Market Report.

“Rental prices are high,” said Taylor. “It’s gone up because all these people who lost their homes had to go somewhere.”

In the Meadowlands section of New Jersey, an area popular for its affordability and close proximity to New York City, it takes an average of three years for a two-income couple to save for a home in the area, said Nancy Lastra, president of the Meadowlands Board of Realtors. Soon it might take even longer, because rents, currently at $1,100, are on the rise in the area.

This should be an affordable time for first-time home buyers because mortgage rates are low by historical standards. But mortgage requirements are stricter than they were before the recession. Banks and lenders are paying special attention to the debt-to-income ratio, which is the portion of gross monthly income that is spent on housing and overall debt.

In the U.S., about 12 million renter and owner households are cost burdened, and are spending more than 50% of their annual incomes on housing. 30% or less is considered affordable, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

As rising rental prices out pace wages, the debt-to-income ratio is hurting borrowers, who may not qualify for loans or end up with higher rates.

People under the age of 30 have another disadvantage. Many of them carry large debt loads that include student loans.

Currently, student loans account for 69% of total debt for 25-year-olds with student debt, according to the Federal Reserve. Before the recession, young people with a history of student debt were more likely to own a home than those without. They were more educated, and therefore, expected to earn more. But that trend reversed after the recession. Now, 30-year-old student loan borrowers are less likely to own a home than those without.

In Spokane, Wa., a city with a large population of young people, a higher proportion of residents rent their homes than the national rate, according to a 2014 study by the Demand Institute. The city’s University District is home to five college campuses, which has drawn many young, debt-burdened people to the area.

“Being able to qualify for a home loan and carrying that burden of student debt – that’s a real big problem for young people,” said Loretta Cael, a counselor with the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program. “We’ve got someone who just graduated. They’re going to go up in pay, but it isn’t going to be right now. I’m not going to be able to qualify them for a home, because I’m looking at what that student loan debt is doing to them.”

Young people will put off buying homes as their debt, rent and other living expenses mount. For this reason, analysts expect the demand from renters will continue to grow in cities like Spokane, which have younger people with lower incomes.

In Spokane and other parts of the country, builders are focusing more on multi-family homes, signaling a shift in the housing supply to meet the demand of renters. According to the Demand Institute, 30% of new home completions in the U.S. in 2018 will be multi-family units, double the proportion at the height of the boom.

It’s unclear what long-term effects this change will have on the housing market.

But some hope it means we’re creating more responsible homeowners, which will help in the long run. People are becoming more cautious. They are taking the time to educate themselves instead of jumping into a purchase.

“It’s a slow transition,” said Cael, who said the buying process for first-time homeowners in 6 months to a year. “If we’re talking about creating responsible sustainable home ownership, then they need to be able to form patterns of good behavior. I think that’s going to be the way we prevent this from happening again.”