Houston-area renters saw a growing gap between median home sales price and household income in 2019, according to a new report from Rice University — a trend likely made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though the data addresses pre-pandemic findings, the Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research 2021 State of Housing in Harris County and Houston report — released Tuesday morning — found that the eviction rates in 2019 were already up by 4.5% before the pandemic began.
Since then, Houston — where more than half the population rents — has seen an eviction crisis, with few local protections.
"While a federal moratorium during COVID-19 decreased evictions, local leadership did not adopt the type of protections that appear to have further slowed evictions in other Texas cities," the report reads.
Texas cities like Austin and Dallas placed a freeze on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, but no such protections were set in place for Houston residents. Houston and Harris County did set up a rental assistance program, as has the state.
Harris County has seen more than 30,000 eviction cases filed since March of last year, despite a moratorium put forward by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Renters were facing a jump in housing costs before the pandemic, without a pay raise to match the difference. Rates in 2019 were 40-50% higher than the previous year.
Luis Guajardo with the Kinder Institute said that's why the city has seen a greater living density.
"People with lower-paying jobs were already struggling to find affordable housing options prior to 2020 and likely deciding to live with others to save money, and we actually saw this in the Census data," Guajardo said.
Additional data from 2019 concludes that affordable housing supply is not keeping up with the demand, and rising construction costs suggest this problem will grow. This trend has also continued into the current housing climate.
The findings also found a correlation in the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the Houston area: Because people were already living in crowded environments, the virus may have been more easily spread.
Houston areas that had seen a greater number of COVID-19 cases were typically in lower income neighborhoods with large Hispanic and Black populations, like Independence Heights, Northside, Sharpstown, and Gulfton.
"There's an interesting overlap between the neighborhoods where that was highest and where we saw some of the highest COVID positivity rates during the summer peak in Houston last year," Guajardo said.
Additional reporting by Jen Rice.