Photo by Becky Lai/flickr. Via the 2021 State of Housing in Harris County and Houston.
Photo by Becky Lai/flickr. Via the 2021 State of Housing in Harris County and Houston.

Last month, the Kinder Institute for Urban Research released its 2021 State of Housing in Harris County and Houston.

The report is the second annual housing report from Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research. It uses data from 2018–19 to analyze and visualize trends. (The first report used data from 2010–18.) While the numbers don’t account for changes as a result of COVID-19, the difficulties of the pandemic are front and center in the Executive Summary of the report and in the Introduction.

The report reveals changes in unit density: the report finds that in 2019, new multi-family housing units outnumbered single-family units in Harris County, a switch from 2018. (In the City of Houston, permitted new multi-family units were double the number of single-family units.) The study also lays bare the serious difficulties for renters and those seeking affordable housing.

The report’s key findings are:

  • Overall the affordability gap is shrinking, but not for renters.
  • Beyond not being able to own a home, a growing share of renters have difficulty paying the rent on the homes they already live in.
  • Perhaps because of local renters’ housing insecurity, Harris County has a massive eviction rate.
  • More knowledge about landlords will help stakeholders better understand the dynamics of a renter-majority city (and soon-to-be majority renter county).
  • Affordable housing supply does not keep up with demand, and rising construction costs suggest this problem will grow.
  • Not only the poor, but middle-income renters and buyers are increasingly squeezed, too.
  • Houston is adding households but losing people, showing that households are getting smaller, while larger households are locating in suburban Harris County.
  • Houston and Harris County are becoming older and less diverse, while the rest of the metro area outpaces their growth.
  • Economic segregation and inequality remain a pervasive issue that transcends housing and affects Houstonians’ prospects of upward mobility.
  • Flooding is a growing risk: Homes are still being built in the existing 100- and 500-year floodplains.
  • Cost-burdened households have fewer resources to weather the inevitable next disaster.
  • The suburbs are the site of a growing trend in concentrated poverty.

The report’s conclusion highlights four key themes:

  • There is not one housing sector but two.
  • Renters face difficult challenges.
  • Can the housing supply meet Houston and Harris County’s new needs?
  • Is the area’s housing ready for the next disaster?

Last year’s inaugural State of Housing report definitively ended the claim that Houston remained a widely affordable place, though it remains cheaper than other metropolitan areas. This year’s report centered the growing problems that renters face. These issues are intensified due to traumatic events like the pandemic and Winter Storm Uri. While the report crunches the numbers, it’s up to leaders in Houston and Harris County to make meaningful change based on this information.

Read the full report here.

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