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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Texas’ poorest renters face a shortage of 679,000 rental homes they can actually afford

A green For Rent sign hangs in front of a brown two-story apartment complex with vehicles parked in the driveway.
Don Ryan/AP
Texas needs more than 679,000 low-cost rental homes for the state’s poorest renters, according to a new National Low-Income Housing Coalition report.

Texas has one of the least hospitable rental markets in the nation for poor people. A new report finds the state has a massive shortage of available rental homes that extremely low-income renter household can afford.

The National Low-Income Housing Coalition’s annual report on the nation’s affordable housing shortage found that the nearly 907,000 renter households making less than 30% of their area’s median income are essentially competing for the roughly 227,000 available rental homes they could actually afford. That’s a shortage of more than 679,000 rental homes the state’s poorest residents, which includes families of four with annual incomes below $29,000.

The result, according to Michael Depland from the advocacy group Texas Housers, is that the state’s most vulnerable households — overwhelmingly seniors, people with disabilities, and the working poor — typically pay more than half of their incomes to keep a roof over their heads. Nearly 80% of these households are considered severely cost burdened, which forces terrible choices.

“They’re having to choose rent over food. They’re having to choose rent over medications. These are things that extremely low-income renter households unfortunately have to face,” Depland said. “Four out of five extremely low-income renter households have to spend more than half of their income on rent.”

When most of a household’s income goes to rent, they’re also much more vulnerable to eviction, said National Low-Income Housing Coalition Vice President Andrew Aurand. And evictions, he points out, drive poorer mental and physical health, worse education outcomes for kids, and lost jobs and wages, which further destabilizes families.

“Imagine if you’re paying 70% or even 80% of your income for rent: If you have a disruption in that income or you have an unexpected expense, you fall behind on your rent. Then you’re suddenly in a situation where you’re losing your home,” Aurand said.

Eviction cases in Texas counties where data show sharp upticks in recent years as housing prices shot up and pandemic-era assistance programs and renter protections ended.

Texas is worst than most

This is a nationwide problem, said Aurand. No state has anywhere close to an adequate supply of homes for their poorest renter households. While the numbers vary year to year, the trendlines are clear: Things are getting worse as supply decreases as demand grows.

“There’s been this continued decline of low-cost rental housing in the private market….And then the other trend we’ve seen is that an economic crisis will happen, we’ll see a significant increase in the number of extremely low-income renters, and that number seems to not come down.” Aurand said. “So we’ve seen this long-run increase in extremely low-income renters and decrease in housing that is affordable to them.”

Still, Texas ranks as one of the worst: Only Arizona, Nevada and California showed larger shortages.

Courtesy of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition
Courtesy of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition

Texas’ major cities face even greater challenges. Compared to the statewide average of roughly 25 available and affordable rental homes for every 100 extremely low-income households: Austin has just 21 available homes for every 100 households who need them; Dallas has just 17, and Houston has only 15.

Black, Latino, and Indigenous households are overrepresented among extremely low-income households and more likely to be severely cost-burdened compared to white non-Latino households, according to the report. Historic and institutionalized policies, practices and laws created and uphold a yawning racial wealth gap.

Market failure

The shortage of housing that lower-income people can afford grew as the state continues to attract more and more residents. Texas added 475,000 new Texans from mid-2022 and to mid-2023.

North Texas saw some of the sharpest population increases in the nation, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report, with the counties surrounding Dallas notching some of the largest numerical increases in the country. Collin, Denton and Tarrant Counties were among the 10 counties that saw the greatest growth in people. Kauffman and Rockwall Counties saw the fastest and second-fastest rate of growth.

The report also finds shortages of available and affordable units for less-impoverished households in Texas, though they grow less severe as incomes rise. Those making closer to half of the area median income in Texas have nearly 45 units for every 100 households. Those making between 60% and 80% of the area median income in the state have 92 units for every 100 households who need them.

For those earning more than 80% of the area median income — a minority of the state’s renters — it becomes a renter’s market, with more units available than need them.

This picture proves that the private market simply cannot serve the needs of the state’s poorest residents, Depland said.

“Generally, extremely low-income households do not generate enough rent to cover the cost of housing or even maintaining older, existing housing. We need subsidies to be a part of this equation. The private market cannot satisfy this problem,” Depland said.

Aurand said the U.S. vastly under-funds housing vouchers that help people afford quality housing, leading to huge waiting lists. That problem is compounded in Texas, where state law protects a landlord’s right to discriminate against voucher holders. He said some promising federal legislation would increase vouchers and enshrine protections, and that federal investment in low-cost rental housing is essential to addressing the problem.

Depland said Texans need state and local action, too, both to protect renters and to subsidize the building of new affordable housing and to preserve the low-cost rental housing that already exists.

Some cities are starting to do this, including using bond funds. Dallas voters, for example, will vote in may on whether to approve about $65 million in bond funding to develop more affordable housing – not enough, he said, but it would help.

“These are people who are a part of our community and they need housing that is affordable and available to them,” Depland said. “These are people who are working people, they’re seniors and they’re people [with disabilities] who the government has been tasked to help…and they should be able to find a home.”

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.