The 2021 State of Housing in Harris County and Houston

Report by Stephen Averill Sherman, John Park, Luis Guajardo, Kyle Shelton, Jenna Lessans, Ksenia Mokrushina, William Fulton
June 2021

Kinder Institute for Urban Research   (Houston)

The 2021 State of Housing in Harris County and Houston report examines data from 2018 to 2019 and compares how dozens of key housing indicators shifted. The Kinder Institute's first housing report, using data from 2010 to 2018, was released last year, and subsequent annual reports will add the latest year of available data to the analysis while tracking trends.

Neighborhood-level indicators are available on the Kinder Institute's State of Housing Dashboard.

As with last year’s inaugural report, the 2021 State of Housing documents that, like other major metro centers, Harris County and Houston’s housing sector is failing many and rewarding too few. For higher-income residents and most homeowners, the system is creating large benefits and stability. Yet lower-income households, especially lower-income renters, find themselves squeezed into unaffordable and often unsafe homes. Access to the ranks of homeownership, and the inherent benefits that come from that status, is growing more elusive.

These divergent paths were also magnified by the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and Winter Storm Uri, which will leave ripple effects on the region’s housing system for years to come. 

Key findings

  • Overall the affordability gap is shrinking, but not for renters. It became harder for renters to enter homeownership in 2019. Although the overall affordability gap for residents in the county slightly shrunk because of lower interest rates, the gap between median sales price and median renter household income continued to grow.
  • 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. While incomes did increase, they did not increase as fast as rent, which grew around 5% locally. Houston and Harris County’s renters are more cost burdened than renters in Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, and those cities’ host counties.
  • Perhaps because of local renters’ housing insecurity, Harris County has a massive eviction rate. As of 2019, the eviction filing rate was 8.8%. The eviction rate was 4.5%.
  • 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. Roughly one quarter of rental households in the county earning between $50,000 and $75,000 are cost-burdened.The majority of renters with incomes in the range of the renter median household income — between $35,000 and $50,000 — are cost burdened or severely cost burdened.
  • 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. The city’s shrinking population and the county’s lagging growth highlight the challenge of a declining tax base and raise questions about how the area’s housing stock is or is not meeting the needs of changing demographics.
  • Economic segregation and inequality remain a pervasive issue that transcends housing and affects Houstonians’ prospects of upward mobility. The places where poorer and working class residents can buy and rent are increasingly in the outer reaches of the county, farther from services, jobs and other opportunities critical to upward mobility.
  • Flooding is a growing risk: Homes are still being built in the existing 100- and 500-year floodplains.

The Kinder Institute is grateful to Wells Fargo for its lead and ongoing support of the annual State of Housing in Harris County and Houston research.