Rising rents pushing low-wage families away from opportunities

Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2019

By Eric Galatas

Texas News Service

AUSTIN, Texas – As more Texans have turned to renting in the decade following the housing crisis, rising rents are pushing low-income families away from safe neighborhoods and good schools, according to a new report from Apartment List.

To afford a median-cost two-bedroom apartment in Houston, said Christina Rosales, communications director for Texas Housers, you’d have to earn $20 an hour, and in Austin you’d have to earn $27 an hour.

“And in Lubbock, it’s $16 an hour,” she said. “So you can see it varies a lot, but none of this would be affordable to someone making minimum wage, which is more than 800,000 people who are renting in Texas.”

Nearly half of U.S. renting households spend more than the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s recommended 30 percent of gross income on rent. Rosales said families are forced to pay a higher percentage of their income to keep their kids in decent schools, or move into neighborhoods with fewer services.

Texas cities ranked better than costly East and West Coast markets. Renters in California’s Bay Area city of Fremont must earn a six-figure salary to afford a median-priced one-bedroom apartment.

Just one in four people who qualify for federal housing assistance, public housing or vouchers actually get help, Rosales said. Increasing investments in affordable housing is critical, she said, because the future of families depends on where they’re living today. Rosales emphasized that home is where childhood happens, where kids get their first bite of birthday cake and where they learn to read with Mom.

“And if there’s not a place for these kids to have that childhood, if it’s simply a rickety roof over their head,” she said, “we need to face the issue today so that kids have a decent foundation for tomorrow.”

At the state level, Rosales said, lawmakers can help families by passing legislation to allow cities to enact inclusionary zoning, which would require developers to create affordable units. Under current law, she said, renters in Texas also lack basic rights and can be evicted for complaining about sewage or electrical problems.