As rent prices in Houston and Harris County soared beyond median household income, the majority of renters are finding themselves burdened by housing costs, according to a new report from the Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

The 2023 State of Housing in Harris County and Houston report, released July 25, said the latest data signals potential financial strain and instability for those households.

Being the fourth comprehensive study of its kind, the institute has focused on many areas of the housing market in the past, such as the 2020 pandemic's impact and the rapidly changing housing environment based on the report from last year.

Areas of focus in the 2023 report include:
  • Renting affordability and eviction
  • Renter cost burden
  • The growth of investor landlords
  • Rental habitability
The specifics

Between 2015 and 2021, monthly rent prices in the city and county grew faster than median household income, according to the report. As of 2021, a majority of renter households were spending over 30% of their household income on housing, which researchers said indicates they faced housing cost burdens. When factoring in household size and essential costs, more than 60% of rental households experienced housing cost burdens.

Harris Central Appraisal District’s 2021 grading system assesses the physical condition of rental structures in Harris County relative to age, according to the report. Housing conditions were worrisome, with nearly 1 in 5 rental structures in Harris County receiving a "below average" grade, from the Harris Central Appraisal District in 2021, according to the report.

Additionally, approximately 25% of single-family homes in Harris County were rentals. Among the about 1.1 million single-family rental homes, 10,385 were owned by a small group of multistate corporate investors, and an additional 38,703 were owned by other corporate entities, according to the report.

Diving in deeper

The report mentions a phrase "the rent eats first" to highlight the real cost of housing, as researchers said rental affordability is not only a factor of the monthly rent costs but also the living costs for the people in that household.

The data shows that rent burdens impact households with children more significantly. Almost 90% of single-parent households are cost-burdened, and more than 70% of two-parent households with children are cost-burdened, according to the report.

According to the study, increases in rent often result in reduced spending on essential needs, such as healthy food, medical care and child care.

Additionally, in car-dependent cities such as Houston, transportation costs can be comparable to housing expenses for some households, making transportation policy crucial for addressing long-term housing challenges, researchers said.

Cost burden varies among households, depending on their family status or race/ethnicity.

Remember this?

Build-to-rent subdivisions of single-family homes are gaining attention, offering more space for renters without the burden of a mortgage, researchers said in the report.

Texas has the highest share of single-family home purchases made by institutional investors in the U.S. with 28% of all single-family home purchases.

Large institutional investors, such as Invitation Homes and American Homes 4 Rent, have grown in the rental market since the Great Recession in 2008, impacting the post-COVID-19 housing market as well. The investors owned an estimated 10,385 properties in Harris County.

Fifteen major single-family rental institutional investors owned at least 4% of the entire single-family rental stock in Harris County in 2021.

Stay tuned

This report will be shared during a webinar Sept. 20 open to the public for free. The panel will consist of housing experts, such as:
  • Cupid Alexander, senior vice president of operations for the Houston Housing Authority
  • Laura Jamarillo, executive director for Local Initiatives Support Corporation Houston
  • Libby Viera-Bland, director of neighborhood development for Project Row Houses/ Row House CDC