As Austin Meets Growing Demand For High-Income Renters, Low-Income Renters Struggle

Jan 31, 2020

Here’s a statement that will shock very few in Austin: The city is becoming increasingly harder for renters to afford.

That’s according to an annual report released Thursday by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

“Austin is definitely feeling the pain of the affordability crisis,” Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, a research associate at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, said. “And it’s been happening faster in Austin than in most other places.”

Using census data, researchers found the number of renter households in the Austin area grew by 19% between 2010 and 2018. And the vast majority of those new renters made at least $75,000 a year.

Airgood-Obrycki said as more high-earners enter the rental market, more expensive apartments are built. For example, the number of rental properties here charging more than $1,400 a month went up by 95,000 between 2008 and 2018, comprising nearly a third of the area’s rental homes.

“That’s a huge shift in 10 years,” Airgood-Obrycki said.

And as fewer apartments are affordable to low-income residents, more tenants spend a significant amount of their income on rent.

“Poor people are having a horrible time finding affordable and quality housing everywhere and it’s always been bad but it’s been getting worse," Jake Wegmann, an assistant professor of housing and real estate at UT Austin, said.

In the Austin area, 91.2% of households earning less than $15,000 a year put at least half of their income toward rent. (Federal guidelines recommend spending no more than a third of your income on rent.) That’s the largest percentage of severely cost-burdened renters for this income bracket than in any other metropolitan area the researchers studied.

More modest-income renters are also feeling the strain.

Since 2006, the percentage of households making between $30,000 and $44,999 a year who spent more than a third of their income on rent went up by 32%.

“That’s just a massive change,” Airgood-Obrycki said. “The affordability problems are growing really quickly in Austin for these middle-income households.”

This story has been updated. 

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