Recent data from the American Community Survey shows 42%, or 23,493 Montgomery County rental units, are paying 30% or more of their income in gross rent. The data, which was released March 17, showed 34.3% of county residents are paying 35% or more their income toward rent.

In 2015, 20,082, or 44.7% of the county’s renting population, was paying the same percentage of their income toward rent, according to that year’s American Community Survey. In both years, county residents paying 35% or more were the largest group of income as a percentage of rent.

According to the federal Housing and Urban Development department, 30% or more of income toward gross rent is considered a burden on renters. The county ranks below the state of Texas overall, which reports 48% of renters paying 30% or more of income as rent.

Ben Martin, a researcher with the nonprofit Texas Housers, said rent burden affects different income classes differently. Those who have a higher income are usually able to pay a greater percentage of it toward rent without a burden compared to low-income renters, Martin said.

“If you've got ... a pretty significant amount of the population who's low or middle income, and then you also have ... a higher amount of population that's rent-burdened, you know that the overlap of those two categories is causing serious harm to those people,” Martin said. “They're then either falling behind on rent or unable to buy other life necessities like food.”

According to the American Community Survey, 28.9% of households in Montgomery County made under $50,000 in 2020. Martin noted the federal government’s 2020 median income is $67,521, meaning a portion of the 16% of Montgomery County residents making between $50,000-$75,000 would qualify as low to middle income.

Martin said the problems can be addressed through expanding access to the Section 8 affordable housing program. President Joe Biden released his President’s Budget on March 28, which includes $32.1 billion in funding for housing vouchers specifically covered under the Section 8 program.

According to its website, the Housing Authority of Montgomery County’s Section 8 application process is closed. The Housing Authority did not respond to a request for comment.

Montgomery County received $18 million in separate waves of emergency rental assistance funding from the federal government. The county returned $10 million in November, with county officials confirming the money eventually made its way to Texas’ Department of Housing and Community Affairs. A further $3.2 million was returned to the U.S. Treasury in March.

The remaining $7.7 million was distributed to four area nonprofits for them to distribute aid to renters in need. The nonprofits are Interfaith of The Woodlands, Montgomery County Community Assistance Center, Easter Seals and Montgomery County Society of Samaritans.