Rent vs. Income

Are wages keeping up with rising Houston rents? Not even close.

Are wages keeping up with rising Houston rents? Not even close.

University of Houston The Vue on MacGregor apartments planned across from campus June 2013
It costs more to rent in Houston, but workers are making less. FountainResidential.com

Rents are rising in Houston, but are incomes keeping up? Not even close, according to a new national study. 

Apartment List analyzed U.S. Census data from 1960-2014 and found that inflation-adjusted rents have risen by 64 percent nationally, but real household incomes increased by only 19 percent.

During the particularly grim first decade of the 21st century, household incomes actually fell by 9 percent, while rents rose by 18 percent. For the total duration of the study, cost-burdened renters nationwide more than doubled, from 24 percent in 1960 to 49 percent in 2014.

"The U.S. renter population is larger than it has ever been (43 million households, or 37 percent of the total population), and nearly half of them are struggling to pay rent," writes Apartment List's director of data science and growth, Andrew Woo.

Here in Houston, incomes were keeping pace until about 2000, when they took a sudden dip and have struggled to recover ever since. Since 1980, rents have increased about 20 percent, from $807 to $940. The median income for renters right now is $38,447, a 10 percent dip from the $42,225 it was in 1980.

The numbers are depressing in Dallas, too, where rent is up nearly 25 percent ($761 to $948) but the median income for renters right now is $38,406, just slightly above the $37,237 it was in 1980. That scenario is on par with the rest of the South and Midwest, with one major exception: Austin.

Both rent and income there have risen significantly, and both are about 40 percent above where they were in 1980. While rent may be a pricey $1,092 now compared to only $761 then, renters are bringing home $43,634 versus $30,227.

Apartment List points out that while Austin's population has more than doubled since 1980, the city's strong employment growth and attractiveness to millennials have given it the most impressive boost in the country.