UT researcher: Austin rent spike to hit struggling families even harder

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — New data shows a continued increase in rent prices for Austinites.

New numbers from ApartmentData.com show apartment rents in the Austin area went up about 25% between December 2020 and December 2021, as reported by KXAN’s media partners at the Austin Business Journal.

It’s what drove Tony Baker and his wife and daughter out of their apartment near the UT campus.

“We had planned to stay at least another year, maybe a bit longer, while we were saving up for a house and deciding about our future,” he said.

That’s until they got their lease renewal offer, with a rent increase of about 30%.

“So, we started scrambling and figuring out what to do,” he said. “And over the course of next few months, we decided we needed to move up our timeline on purchasing a house, simply because rental prices everywhere had gone so high.”

Peter Bergman, associate professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, said while rent has gone up in many cities across the nation, he found that rental prices have gone up more dramatically in cities that are typically considered to be more affordable, like Austin.

It’s part of insight Bergman provided to the federal government a few weeks ago, partnering with AffordableHousing.com.

Bergman said low-income renters, whom he classified as making about $15,000 a year, expect to see even more rent increases, with higher increases in more affordable neighborhoods within these cities.

“More than half of respondents said there’s a 50% likelihood or greater that they think there’ll be evicted going forward, which is a pretty scary number,” Bergman said.

He said another troubling finding was that nearly half of respondents who did not get Emergency Rental Assistance last year said they had not heard about the program, and among those who did know about the program, more than 40% didn’t know if they were eligible or not.

That means there’s both an awareness and education problem, he said.

“I think there are different ways to make families aware of these programs, often leveraging existing social services programs to help inform families about other programs they may be eligible for, and then making these processes as simple as possible to enroll,” Bergman explained.

He said complicated processes can filter out families.

“And so you’re missing a lot of families who might be most in need because they’re struggling to figure out how do I fill out this form? And what sort of information do I need?” he said.

It’s something Travis County leaders are thinking about — commissioners met Tuesday to discuss how to improve assistance for those facing eviction.

Travis County staff brought presented a roughly $1.6 million plan that would fund two years of expanded county agreements with the Austin Tenants’ Council, Volunteer Legal Services and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.

Experts told the ABJ factors behind the exploding rental market include “job growth, an influx of remote workers and a highly competitive single-family housing market.”

“People are becoming renters first or renters longer,” Bruce McClenny, president of ApartmentData.com, told the ABJ.

Paul Smith, co-founder of Twelve Rivers Realty, is seeing double-digit median rent increases for single-family homes.

For example, he says zip code 78747 — the Onion Creek area — went from $1,893 in 2020 to $2,300 in 2021, a 22% increase.

The Domain area — zip code 78758 — went from $1,600 in 2020 to $2,098 in 2021, a 31% jump.

Tony Baker (left) and his wife in their new home city of Pflugerville. (Photo courtesy Tony Baker)

“When you think about what happened in the past year … I mean, Q2 that soccer stadium like all that just completely shined a larger flashlight on an area,” he said.

He also said there’s an influx of folks moving from those typically more expensive cities, like San Francisco, are driving prices up, because they’ve got more money to compete in the market.

“You think about all the people that are moving here and at the same time to you think about supply and demand and just the ability to add new inventory,” Smith said.

He said more expensive zip codes within Austin are also seeing even less inventory than others. Smith believes that’s partly because landlords are deciding to sell instead of rent.

Baker said he used his rental property to be able to afford a house but was still priced out of Austin.

“The more and more we looked, we decided… we couldn’t even actually afford a house really within the Austin City Limits for what we needed for our family,” he said.

He landed in Pflugerville.

“I have a rental property and I was able to leverage some of that and figure out a way to turn that into a down payment on house,” he said. “But not everybody has … resources like that.”

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