Why rents are rising in Houston even as the housing market cools

Nora Diaz Arroyo spent almost three months searching online for an apartment she could afford before recently hopping into her car to drive around Houston looking for for-rent signs. Nine hours later, the results were the same as her online search: unsuccessful.

Diaz Arroyo’s search was spurred by a 16 percent rent increase on her Northwest Houston apartment and the likelihood of another big increase coming soon when her lease is up for renewal. With her roommates relocating for work and inflation driving grocery, utilities and gasoline costs higher, she knows she can’t cover the rent on her own — even with two pay raises over the past year.

“On paper, yes, I’m making more but I’m spending more, so saving for a new apartment has been difficult considering the prices of everything has gotten higher,” said Diaz Arroyo, a 21-year-old flight attendant. “It’s a struggle finding a reliable, safe apartment that’s not just like throwing your wallet out the window.”

Diaz Arroyo is among the thousands of Houston renters scrambling to find — or keep — places they can afford. Average apartment rents across the Houston area have climbed 12 percent since 2019 to an average of almost $1,300 a month, according to commercial real estate data firm CoStar. Rents in older buildings with fewer amenities — so called workforce housing — have risen slightly faster, jumping nearly 14 percent since 2019 to an average $1,100 a month.

In many Houston neighborhoods, the days of a one-bedroom for $1,000 are long gone.

Diaz Arroyo has scoured online posts and toured units in central Houston, Humble, Bellaire and Spring Branch trying to find a one bedroom for under $800. But so far everything she’s found within her budget felt unsafe, run down or too far from her job.

Frustrated, she said she likely will stay in the same complex, but move into a smaller two-bedroom for $1,200, including utilities, then find a roommate to split the bill. That would still increase her rent bill by at least $100, pushing her housing cost to more than a third of her monthly income. So she’s taken on a second job doing data-entry from home, limiting driving to necessary trips and trying to only grocery shop once a month.

“I’ve talked to coworkers and friends in other fields,” Diaz Arroyo said. “They’ve also had the same issue of not being able to keep up and having to move back home (with parents) or having to find like multiple roommates.”

Pressures are only expected to build on renters as consumer prices, including rents, are rising faster than their paychecks. In a survey of 1.1 million renters in Houston, almost 41 percent reported relying on credit cards to make ends meet and nearly 40 percent were borrowing money from family, according to the U.S. Census Pulse Survey from July and early August. Nearly 20 percent said they were not caught up on rent payments, putting them at risk of eviction .

“We’re seeing a lot of tenants that are in places that last year cost $800-900 a month and they’re being told their rent is increasing $200-$300 more,” said Jay Malone, communications director for the advocacy group Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation. “Very few people can afford that kind of ....

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