REPORT: Soaring rents put affordable housing ‘Out Of Reach’ for low-income tenants in Texas

Millions of Texan renters have been majorly impacted by landlords raising rents this year. Couple this with eviction case numbers rising beyond pre-pandemic levels and resources for renters evaporating quickly, many tenants are finding themselves in danger of displacement far more quickly than previously imagined. 

The jumps in rent we have seen landlords impose have been enormous in recent years.

Affordable housing is in dire need. And a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition details what low-wage workers and low-income households face economically with so few affordable housing options available.

Out of Reach 2022, out Thursday, July 28, is the latest edition of the annual report from NLIHC which tracks low-income and minimum wage earners and their access to affordable housing. While the past few years have been unique for such data considering the pandemic, it has brightly highlighted the urgent need for more affordable housing.

The housing wage for the United States  – or the estimate of the hourly wage full-time workers must earn to afford a rental home at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) fair market rent without spending more than 30% of their incomes – is $25.82 for a two bedroom home and $21.25 for a one bedroom home. On average in the U.S., a minimum wage worker would have to work 2.5 full-time jobs in order to live in a modest two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent or 2 full-time jobs to afford a 1 bedroom at fair market rent. While in Texas that number is $22.54 for a two-bedroom home at FMR, with the account of smaller and rural areas, in metros like Austin it’s $27.90, in Dallas it’s $26.19, in Houston it’s $23.23, and in Fort Worth it’s $24.40. Midland, Odessa, and Boerne are also above the state average.

When we think of minimum wage or low-wage workers, we often picture high school age kids, but the truth is only 17 percent of federal minimum wage workers are teenagers; the majority are 25 years old or older. Jobs that are low-wage include home health aides and nursing assistants, building cleaning and pest control workers, retail sales, food and beverage services, food preparation, material moving workers, the list goes on. These are skill sets and services that were proven crucial during the pandemic, they keep our world going, and they are often living in a situation that one emergency could displace them from their home.

We also must account for how race, ethnicity, and gender factor into the housing wage. On average, women earn less than men, and Black, Latino, and Native American workers make less than their White counterparts. Combine this with the historical racism of housing discrimination and its lasting effects, people of color and women are put at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to their housing wage. It is also of note that people of color are more likely to be renters than White people, further complicating the scarcity of affordable housing.

So how do we solve this problem? Quite simply, we need to expand affordable housing in every way that we can and install strong renter protections. This can be achieved through a number of federal and state policies that protect renters, who make up 2 of every 5 Texans.

Federally, Congress can act by expanding the national Housing Trust Fund, which builds, rehabilitates, and preserves housing for households with the lowest incomes. Congress should also invest directly in the preservation of public housing, which could help free up Low Income Housing Tax Credits that are currently being used to finance public housing conversion under the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. This can be achieved through the “American Housing and Economic Mobility Act” (S.1368 and H.R.2768) and the “Housing Is Infrastructure Act” (H.R.4497).

We also must demand that Housing Choice Vouchers are increased and also are accepted in our state. The “Ending Homelessness Act of 2021” (H.R.4496), for example, proposes to establish a universal voucher program that would enable all eligible households to receive rental assistance. The “Affordable HOME Act” (S.2234 and H.R.5385) would provide funding to support an additional 1 million housing vouchers in addition to providing $45 billion for the national Housing Trust Fund and $70 billion for the preservation of public housing, among other measures.

We witnessed the success of the ERA program during the pandemic, with $46.6 billion provided in rental assistance to homes in need due to COVID’s economic impacts. The “Eviction Crisis Act” (S.2182 ) and “Stable Families Act” (H.R.8327) would help establish a more permanent version of this program by creating a national housing stabilization fund for renters facing temporary financial setbacks.

And we also need to enact policy to keep renters safe in their homes and protect them from eviction. The “Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act” (S.3305 andH.R.5884) would establish a grant program to provide legal assistance to renters facing eviction. Similarly, the “Housing Emergencies Lifeline Program (HELP) Act” (H.R.6696) would provide $10 billion to support legal counsel for tenants at risk of eviction and would prohibit the reporting of evictions and rent and utility debt on consumer reports. The “Lead-Safe Housing for Kids Act” (S.1860 and H.R.8713) would protect children living in federally assisted housing from lead poisoning, and the “Public Housing Fire Safety Act” (S.265 and H.R.2638) would create a program to retrofit older apartments with sprinkler systems, for example.

The past few years have opened so many eyes to a commonality among renters. Tenants realized what rights they lack despite their large numbers. Now is the time to make real change for renters in our state and in our country.

You can read the whole Out of Reach 2022 report below or visit nlihc.org/oor.

2022_OOR

Thank you to the National Low Income Housing Coalition for their work on this report.

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