In San Antonio, rent is rising but wages aren’t

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In San Antonio, rent is rising but wages aren’t.

The city already has some of the worst poverty and segregation rates in the country. Now increasing rents are leaving low-income households struggling to keep up with the cost of living.
In the 40-minute bus ride across San Antonio that Barbie Hammond takes to work, there’s one topic of conversation that keeps coming up: the cost of rent.

“A lady that I talk to on the bus told me she had to move because of the rent increases,” the 57-year-old said. “And I told her, ‘Well, when Christmastime came, I got a note saying that the next month there will be a $60 increase in my apartment.’”

Hammond isn’t alone. According to census data compiled by the company Apartment List, between 2008 and 2018, median rents increased from $860 to $1,002 in the San Antonio area. That 16.5% jump was more than the increase in the New York City region and almost the same as in the Los Angeles area.

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Similar increases happened in the Dallas (18.7%) and Houston (16.1%) regions, but there’s something that makes the San Antonio area unique: While rents have been growing, wages have stagnated. Renters’ median incomes grew from $35,718 to $36,959 during the same period. That 3.5% increase was a third of the percentage growth seen in the Houston area and a fourth of the growth in the Dallas region. Those rent and wage figures were all adjusted for inflation.

The situation has people like Hammond, who is a certified assistant nurse, living paycheck to paycheck.

“I haven’t seen a pay increase in … I can’t even remember,” Hammond said. “Most of the jobs here are not gonna pay me more. San Antonio needs to catch up.”

Historically, rents in the United States grew hand-in-hand with wages. But after the Great Recession, housing prices started outpacing income. In Texas, the state’s continued population growth has created more demand for housing, which has raised prices. And in San Antonio, a city with some of the worst poverty and segregation rates in the country, low-income households are having trouble keeping up with the cost of living.

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“As a result of this growing gap, families are having to spend more of their already limited income,” said Lourdes Castro Ramírez, chair of the Housing Commission of the city of San Antonio.

According to data from the city, one in three households in the city spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs, the threshold that traditionally has been used to define what is affordable.

“And when we look at renters, one out of every two renters are paying more than 30% of their income,” Castro Ramírez said.

For her, the reasons are multiple and complex, but a primary factor is the kind of housing being built. According to a report from the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force, there were 14,000 more units considered affordable for households making between $14,780 and $29,561 than there were households in that income bracket in 2005. But in 2016, the tables had turned and there were 2,400 fewer units considered affordable than there were households in that bracket.

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“There’s not enough housing for working individuals that are making $15 an hour or below,” said Castro Ramírez.