Housing report finds Harris County was becoming increasingly unaffordable ahead of pandemic

Multifamily construction
Multifamily construction represented half of all residential building in 2018, according to the Kinder Institute's analysis, and most of that went toward the high end of the market. (Matt Dulin/Community Impact Newspaper)

Multifamily construction represented half of all residential building in 2018, according to the Kinder Institute's analysis, and most of that went toward the high end of the market. (Matt Dulin/Community Impact Newspaper)

Even before the pandemic was a factor, finding an affordable place to live was becoming increasingly difficult in Harris County, with prices outpacing incomes and more people at risk of being overly burdened by housing costs, according to data compiled by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

“The sense is, with COVID-19 ... affordability is only going to get worse,” said Kyle Shelton, one of the authors of the institute’s first comprehensive look at housing in Harris County, which was released June 23.

Inspired in part by Harvard University’s State of the Nation’s Housing annual report, the Kinder Institute hopes to offer this annual snapshot as a local benchmark for informing future housing decisions as well as policy decisions, though the institute did not advocate for any approaches in its first year, Shelton said.

“We’ve done a great job at describing the problems ... but more and more we want to think about, what are the solutions?” said Mary Cunningham, vice president for Metropolitan Housing and Community Policies at the Urban Institute. She was one of three panelists invited to weigh in on the report June 23.

Using aggregated data from the American Community Survey as well as the Houston Association of Realtors, the Kinder report noted the increasing trend toward renting overall as home ownership pulled further out of economic reach, with 57% of Houstonians and 45% of Harris County residents renting as of 2018.


A household earning the median income in 2018 could afford a home priced at around $186,000, but the median market price was $220,000 that year.

“The affordability gap is even worse for renters, making it nearly impossible for the average renter to purchase a home without significant subsidy,” the report notes.

Renters are also increasingly unable to build the savings needed to work toward a home purchase, with 47% paying over 30% of their income on rent and 25% paying more than 50%, according to the report. Homeowners do not see the same challenges, the report found.

“Renters are stretched and can’t keep up, and so you can see a cycle where they are stuck where they are,” Shelton said.

This is particularly troubling, he said, with home ownership declining among Black households and income tied up in higher-rent properties.

“Housing dollars are dollars spent you can’t spend on something else. ... They aren’t paying for education or health care, and they aren’t building generational wealth,” Shelton said.

The report also noted a mismatch between supply- and income-based demand, with more multifamily units being built to serve the higher end of the market, for example.

“The next step I would really think about is setting some targets, ... really thinking about production targets by income-band,” Cunningham said. “Supporting affordable housing in your neighborhood is a great place to start.”

Advocates also called for longer-term strategies rather than responding to natural and economic disasters as they come.

“We keep working on a knee-jerk reaction,” said Allison Hay, executive director of Houston Habitat for Humanity. “We don’t have a plan that goes far enough along to help families for generations and help Houston grow as a city.”

Access the State of Housing report below.
By Matt Dulin
Matt joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2018 and is the City Editor for Houston's Inner Loop editions.


MOST RECENT

"Breaking Strongholds" is a faith-based, eight-episode series that explores topics such as suicide and depression. (Courtesy Terry Weaver)
Series shot in Montgomery County aiming for Hulu, Netflix deal and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

A representative for real estate brokerage Happen Houston said White Oak Station will offer designs and finishes similar to those from its Heights-area Park at Northwood development. (Courtesy City Choice Homes)
Townhome development proposed near Washington Avenue

The project is seeking a subdivision replat for up to 87 homesites.

The Montrose-area Woodrow Wilson Montessori, which opened in the 1920s, will now be a namesake of civil rights advocate Ella J. Baker.  (Courtesy Houston ISD)
Houston ISD renames Montrose-area school to honor civil rights leader Ella J. Baker

A century after Woodrow Wilson's presidency ended, his name will be removed from this Houston ISD school.

The temporary waiver covering initial vehicle registration, vehicle registration renewal, vehicle titling, renewal of permanent disabled parking placards and 30-day temporary permits will end April 14. (Hannah Zedaker/Community Impact Newspaper)
DMV officials say no grace period following waiver of car title, registration; new housing set for Magnolia, Cypress

Read the top business and community news from the past week from the Houston area.

Plant It Forward’s urban farms offer jobs, training and housing to refugees. (Hunter Marrow/Community Impact Newspaper)
Nonprofit Plant it Forward recovering from freeze as it marks 10 years

The nonprofit's urban farms lost about 75% of their crops in the freeze.

Houston ISD has approved its 2021-2022 school year calendar. (Matt Dulin/Community Impact Newspaper)
Houston ISD trustees approve 2021-2022 calendar

The extra days are in place to help some students catch up because of the COVID-19 learning slide.

A neighborhoodwide garage sale will take place April 10 in the Rice Military area. (Courtesy Rice Military Civic Club)
Rice Military hosts 40-house garage sale

Looking for a garage sale? How about 40?

Miller Outdoor Theatre is kicking off its 98th season May 1. (Courtesy Miller Outdoor Theatre)
In-person performances will return to Miller Outdoor Theatre on May 1

To provide an extra measure of safety and to improve the ticketing process, theatergoers will be able to secure tickets in advance online.

Heritage Senior Residences is the first in the Washington Avenue and Rice Military area to receive the state's low-income housing tax credit in 30 years, city documents state. (Courtesy Heritage Senior Residences)
Rice Military-area senior housing project gets backing of city's Harvey grant program

It is the first affordable housing project for the area in decades.

After serving up chicken in College Station for nearly three decades, Layne’s Chicken Fingers is opening its first location in the Houston area in Katy. (Courtesy Layne's Chicken Fingers)
Layne's Chicken Fingers coming to Katy; Gyro King opens in Sugar Land and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

Less than 25% of American office workers have returned to in-person office settings since the start of the pandemic. (Courtesy Pixabay)
DATA: Texas metros lead the nation in return to in-person work since start of pandemic

About 37% of Houston office employees had returned to in-person work as of the end of March, as compared to an average of less than 25% in other major U.S. metros.