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On affordable housing in Houston


More Houstonians are spending a higher percentage of their incomes on housing, a new study from Rice University’s Shell Center for Sustainability shows.

The report’s key finding revealed that half of Houston’s City Council districts do not meet the conventional definition of affordable, which stipulates that the average household not spend more than 30 percent of its income to cover rent or mortgage expenses.

“Our incomes aren’t high enough commensurate with affordable housing,” said Lester King, a Shell Center fellow and author of the report, “Sustainable Development of Houston Districts: The Health of the City.”

“It may involve looking at the mix of jobs being available in the city,” he added. “It may involve increases in income relative to increases in the cost of living over time. It may involve also the change in demographics.”

Adding transportation costs makes Houston seem less affordable to even more people.

The average Houstonian spends 30 percent on housing costs and 16 percent on transportation costs, the report shows. The combination of housing and transportation costs, 46 percent, puts Houston at No. 26 in the nation for affordability among the 50 largest cities, King said.


Since housing prices in Houston are already relatively low, King said policies aimed at reducing transportation costs would help make it a truly affordable city.

Only about 5 percent of Houstonians use public transit.


It found that residents of District F, which includes the Alief, Eldridge/West Oaks and Westchase neighborhoods, spent an average of 33.6 percent of their income on housing. That was the highest of the city’s 11 council districts.

Other districts with higher levels of people putting more of their income toward housing were on the northeast side of town, as well as parts of south and southwest Houston.

The report notes a significant income disparity between District F and District E, which overall spent less than 30 percent of income on housing.

District F’s median income of $39,766 was less than 60 percent of the median income in District E, which includes Clear Lake and the Edgebrook communities.

“This difference may explain why a higher percentage of households in District F are finding housing costs more unaffordable,” the report states.

The Rice News story on this is here, the Shell Center press release is here, the executive summary is here, the full report is here, and further information is here. I’m not sure how I feel about this particular calculation – it seems to me it says more about income levels than anything else – but if we are going to make it, I’d love to know how it works out for the rest of the greater metro area. What do you think about this?

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