Do you rent in Tampa Bay? If so, you’re luckier than many renters elsewhere.According to Zillow, rents in the four-county area are expected to rise an average of less than 1 percent next year. That’s below the national rate and far less than the projected increases in Atlanta, Phoenix and many other Sun Belt cities.Tampa Bay’s median rent is also relatively low — $1,360 compared to $1,435 nationally, the highest ever reported.Demand for rentals has soared since the 2008 housing crash, when real estate values plunged and tens of thousands of bay area homes went into foreclosure. Nearly 38 percent of Tampa Bay families are now in rental properties compared to fewer than 30 percent in 2006, a recent New York University study found.Nationally, the unprecedented demand for rentals has driven up prices. And after growing at a relatively slow pace for much of this year, rents have started to climb again, due mainly to an increase in rents for single-family homes."As rental growth begins to catch up with income growth, affordability will deteriorate, placing a squeeze on budget-constrained renters,’’ said Aaron Terrazas, Zillow’s senior economist.That is both good news and bad news for the real estate market. Many renters might now find it cheaper to buy than rent. At the same time, those paying a bigger portion of their income on rent might not be able to come up with the down payment for a home.In Tampa Bay, 23.5 percent of households are severely "rent-burdened,’’ meaning they spend more than half their income on rent and have scant resources left for health care and education, let alone a down payment, the NYU study found. The West Coast dominates the list of metro areas with the fastest rising rents. Sacramento and Riverside, Calif., and Seattle lead the way, each rising at more than 5 percent annually. But San Jose, Calif., has the highest median monthly rent — $3,493Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.