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Nearly half of Austin-area renters live in housing they can’t afford, study finds

The sun is shining on the construction of an apartment complex as a red truck pulls off the road.
Ivy Fowler
KUT News
Workers frame a five-story affordable housing complex in Northwest Austin. When construction is finished next year, developers say more than half of the apartments will be rented to people earning less than $49,000 a year.

While Austin renters have struggled to afford this city for a while, new research shows how widespread the problem is.

In 2022, nearly 48% of renters in the Austin area spent more than a third of their wages on rent and utilities, according to researchers with Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies who analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data. Per federal guidelines on housing affordability, spending more than 30% of your income on rent means that housing is unaffordable.

A smaller share, roughly 23% of renters, spent more than half of their income on housing costs.

“Unfortunately, the level of housing cost burden that Austin renters are experiencing is pretty much in line with the housing cost burden that renters are experiencing across the country,” said Ben Martin, the research director at Texas Housers. “Austin, as expensive as it is, is not unique.”

As renters are forced to spend a large chunk of their income on housing, they sometimes have to forgo paying for other essentials.

“They’re making a decision as to whether or not they pay rent or eat a nutritious meal,” said Shoshana Krieger, project director at Building and Strengthening Tenant Action (BASTA) at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, a local nonprofit that works with low-income tenants to advocate for better housing conditions.

“Oftentimes we see families who make sure their kids are being fed, that their rent is being paid, that their utilities are on, and then they’re forgoing eating themselves,” Krieger said.

The Harvard study captures the incredible price increases renters have had to shoulder since the pandemic. From 2020 through 2022, the average price of rent in the Austin metro climbed 24%, hitting a monthly rate of $1,625 at the start of last year.

But for much of that time, renters had access to millions of dollars of rent assistance. Federal, state and local governments made money available to help people keep their homes while facing unemployment or illness at the height of the pandemic.

Since 2022, rent prices have started to fall amid an uptick in new apartments being built. In December, average monthly rents were down 5% compared to the same time last year, according to MRI ApartmentData.

However, the number of new building projects has slowed as the price of construction has risen, so experts don't expect these rent drops to continue beyond the next year.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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