Texas Housing Unaffordability Fuels Homelessness During COVID-19
By: Nick Thompson
The National Low-Income Housing Coalition released their 2020 Out of Reach (OOR) Report. The findings of the report are a harrowing warning that Texas and the United States are not moving in the right direction on housing affordability. There is not a single county in the entire country where a person making minimum wage can afford rent.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic depression have pushed many households to the brink of eviction or foreclosure. As municipal, state, and federal protections expire throughout the country, there are millions of people at risk of falling into homelessness. Even doubling up could result in a greater risk of transmission of the virus being in close-quarters with a greater number of people.
Housing inequalities have always impacted communities of color at much higher rates. “People of color disproportionately face greater challenges in finding decent and affordable housing in the U.S., and income inequality contribute to those challenges” (7). Other factors such as gender, sexual orientation, documentation status, criminal history, and other socioeconomic factors compound with race.
Key findings of the Texas OOR Report:
- There isn’t a single county in Texas where minimum wage workers can afford a two-bedroom home
- TX ranks 21st in housing unaffordability
- Minimum wage workers would need to work 115 hours a week to afford a modest 2 bedroom rental home in Texas or 95 hours to afford a modest 1 bedroom rental home
Housing unaffordability is not just an urban problem. The raw data shows that the most expensive areas in the state are suburban, urban, and oil towns according to the necessary housing wage.
Most expensive areas in the state according to the necessary housing wage:
- Austin-Round Rock MSA $26.08
- Midland HMFA $25.94
- Dallas HMFA $25.27
- Kendall County $23.54
- Fort Worth-Arlington HMFA $22.40
However, the necessary housing wage only tells part of the story. Rural towns often have less economic opportunity and a lower average wage. Rural parts of the state may have a lower cost of living as compared to their urban and suburban counterparts but it is not adjusted to the wages of the median resident. Below, the average wage in a county is compared to how many hours they would need to work in order to afford housing. Nearly all of Texas’ most expensive counties as compared to the average wage are considered rural or mostly rural.
Average renter wage to afford housing:
- Bandera County 79 hours
- Bastrop County 85 hours
- Caldwell County 75 hours
- Delta County 91 hours
- Ellis County 75 hours
- Goliad County 145 hours
- Hays County 98 hours
- Kaufman County 85 hours
- Menard County 75 hours
- Starr County 81 hours
The rent is too high and the wages are too low. The average renter wage in Texas is $19.56 and the statewide housing wage is $20.90. For someone making the average renter wage, an apartment may be almost “affordable” with only about $1.50 in difference an hour.
Texas has both the highest amount of minimum wage earners and highest percentage of minimum wage earners in the country (Bureau of Labor Statistics). 196,000 people in the State of Texas make at or below the minimum wage. 10.7% of workers in the state make at or below the minimum wage which is 4% higher than the next runner up Florida.
*Note: Usually people making below the federal minimum wage refers to those in the service industry (such as waiters, baristas, bartenders, etc). It can also apply to employers of people with disabilities who are allowed to pay them as little as $1/hour according to the “Fair Labor Standards Act”.
Texas needs local, state, and federal action to address the housing needs and housing inequities during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.