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Data Shows Big Differences Between Austin Renters and Homeowners


A city can feel like two totally different places depending on whether you rent or own your home, and Austin is no exception.

The median household income for homeowners in Austin is around $86,000 a year. For renters, it’s under $40,000.  Non-Hispanic whites make up less than half of Austin’s population, but more than two thirds of the city's homeowners. Renters are much likelier to be younger and live in a smaller place.

Those are just a few of the differences KUT came across in a review of Census data.

"Austin is very much a renter's city. About 55 percent of people here rent, which is high."

Elizabeth Mueller, a professor of community and regional planning at UT Austin, helped us dig into the numbers. She was not surprised by the results, but said they’re important when you consider the rising cost of living in Austin.

“[Renters] are much more likely to have what [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] calls a cost burden,” says Mueller, “where they spend more than 30 percent of their gross income on their rent and utilities.  And some of them spend over 50 percent of that.”

That’s a special concern in Austin where proposals to help lower income renters are often met with resistance from property owners who oppose greater building density, or the construction of low-income units in their neighborhoods.

“Austin is very much a renter’s city,” says Juliana Gonzalez, the executive director of the Austin Tenants Council. “About 55 percent of people here rent, which is high.”

Gonzalez says two segments of Austin’s renting population are growing fastest.  

“That’s that high-end renters and those low-income, poor renters,” she says. “Although those are the two parts of our population growing the most quickly, the development is really happening on the high-end, luxury end.”

Credit Andrew Weber / KUT

That gives lower income renters fewer options and less leverage when it comes to negotiating with landlords over everything from the cost of rent, to doing basic repairs on a property.

Prospects might be a little rosier for renters of market-value units. For those units, analysts say prices may begin to moderate as Austin’s building boom continues.

“We’ve got 6,000 units under construction [in Austin’s central core],” says Robin Davis, an analyst with Austin Investor Interest. “So I think that in time we will see some of [the high prices] we are currently seeing dissipate.”

But that development isn’t likely to help lower-income renters.

“New stock will contribute to supply, but it is, especially in the center, going to continue to be fairly expensive,” says UT's Elizabeth Mueller. “That’s why if we can think about existing rental housing apartment complexes that are well located, we should really try to keep them affordable. Purchase them and keep them affordable.”

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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