AUSTIN (KXAN) — City leaders and developers cheered as they cut the ribbon for Vi Collina Apartments on Thursday, signifying the grand opening of an affordable housing complex at a time when rents are increasing at historic rates.

The 170-unit complex in the East Riverside neighborhood off of Oltorf Street was built in partnership with the City of Austin.

All units are affordable to families making 30% to 80% of the median family income in the Austin Metro area. A family of four in Austin would need to make $30,000 to $80,000 a year to qualify.

The units come at a much-needed time: Rental prices across the Austin area have shot up year-over-year, according to a new report from rental platform Zumper, with the biggest increases in Georgetown and Pflugerville at 35%.

Zumper said they studied rental prices for six big cities in the Austin Metro Area. They found that although Austin remains the highest amount of rent, the biggest year-over-year increases happened in Georgetown and Pflugerville. (KXAN image, Zumper data)

Zumper senior analyst Jeff Andrews said 2021 saw one of the biggest rent increases in history nationally — and the bad news is that, so far this year, rates are increasing nearly twice as fast.

In April, median rents for the major Austin-area cities Zumper studied were all much higher than the statewide average of $1,116, except for San Marcos.

“That is largely due because rent is often tied to the home sales market,” Andrews said, explaining that Austin’s high home prices have priced out some buyers, putting more demand on rentals.

“So, you’re leaving a whole bunch of people in the rental market who otherwise would have cycled out into homeownership,” he said.

He thinks San Marcos saw a smaller increase because its rental market isn’t as tied to the buyers market.

“I would imagine that San Marcos is largely a renter area, at least relative to Austin. And so when you have an area that has mostly renters, home prices can rise a lot without necessarily bringing rents with them,” he said.

The City of San Marcos told KXAN it could also be because many of their apartment complexes charge rent by the room, which is geared toward college students. They said because rent is for a single room, rather than the whole apartment, it can impact searches and average prices.

This KXAN graph using Zumper data shows the April median rent in six major cities within the Austin Metro Area. You can see that only San Marcos falls below the state median.

The numbers reflect the need for affordable housing like Vi Collina.

“In a day and age when it is getting just so hard to afford anything in this city for anybody… it is projects like this that help keep families and important parts of our community here,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “We need more projects like this.”

It’s already helping at least one Austinite, Kylee Mohr, who experienced homelessness in the past and didn’t think she’d ever be able to afford an apartment like this.

“I did resign myself to the fact that I would be trapped in less-desirable living conditions,” she said at Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Without affordable housing, I know I wouldn’t have such a beautiful, clean, safe place to rest my head, and for that… I’ll always be forever grateful.”

Travis County commissioners met with partners Thursday to discuss affordable housing projects underway.

They said they’ve got 2,892 units in the pipeline. They said 2,049 of those will be considered affordable and about half of those are expected to be dedicated to homelessness response.

The remaining 843 units are expected to be opened at the market rate.