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

Dallas renters need to earn $53,040 a year to afford a one-bedroom apartment

Gabriel C. Pérez
Millions of North Texas workers have jobs with median wages well below the income needed to afford a modest apartment.

Full-time work simply doesn’t pay enough to afford even a modest apartment for many in North Texas. New data from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition shows the cost of rental housing far exceeds the typical wages of huge swaths of workers.

The nonprofit’s annual Out of Reach report tallies the earnings needed to afford rent across the country. Like the rest of the country, low-income Texans face a housing market where truly affordable rent is largely out of reach.

“Rental housing is way too expensive and is not affordable for low wage workers really anywhere really in the country…” said coalition Vice President of Research Andrew Aurand. “When you think about urban areas [in Texas], there are, of course, some areas that are even more expensive.”

In the Dallas area, renters need to make $53,040 annually — or $25.50 per hour working full time — in order to afford one-bedroom apartment, the report concludes.

Workers earning minimum wage would have to work 141 hours each week to afford a modest one-bedroom in the Dallas area. Texas uses the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour, which was last increased in 2009.

In the Fort Worth area, renters find little relief. A worker would need an annual salary of $49,360 — $23.73 working full time — to pay for a one-bedroom apartment without being cost-burdened.

Other large Texas cities face high housing costs. For Texas as a whole, the “housing wage” for a modest one-bedroom apartment averages $20.96. The Austin area has the highest at $26.65.

Widening affordability gap

Many common jobs in Dallas-Fort Worth pay far, far less than what the report calls a “housing wage,” according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Nearly 2 million people in the region work in jobs with median wages far too small to make a modest one-bedroom in the Fort Worth area. That number increases to 3.6 million if they’re trying to rent in the Dallas area.

That includes much of the workforce in food service and retail, in janitorial work, health care, warehousing and in many offices. Median wages in many “essential” jobs fall particularly well short, too, including home health aides ($11.66 per hour), childcare workers ($12.84 per hour), nursing and medical assistants ($16.34 and 18.71, respectively) and meat packers ($15.48 per hour).

The cost of rent jumped dramatically over the pandemic – increasing nationwide by 25% just in 2021. While rent inflation has slowed back down, Aurand said rents have stabilized at a point that’s far too high for the lowest-wage workers to afford. That’s even as workers got huge pay bumps during the pandemic.

“Wages have risen significantly over the last couple of years, especially for low-wage workers. But those increases, even though they've been significant, they have not kept up with the increases that we saw in rent,” Aurand said. “And so even though low-wage workers…saw significant increase in their incomes, their increase in rent took more than that from them.”

The annual reports have shown, year after year, a deepening housing affordability crisis across the country. The nation has far too little housing for people with low incomes — no market has an adequate supply of housing they can afford, Aurand said. But the data shows more and more workers are falling into that widening affordability gap in some regions, including in many of Texas’ fast-growing cities.

“What we have seen in some housing markets in recent years…is the affordable housing problem, creeping up the income ladder, so to speak,” Aurand said. “And so I do believe that more renters now are struggling to pay their rent. There are more severely cost-burdened renters now.”

Increasing precarity

For individuals and families who end up paying far too much for rent, the consequences are sweeping, undermining everything from health and education to basic economic stability and job security, he said.

In addition to low pay, many low-wage jobs don’t offer paid time off that would give a person time to handle go to court for an eviction hearing, for example. And the disruption of an eviction can make it harder for someone to get to work on time or focus fully on the job.

“A lot of people think of it in terms of, ‘If you lose your job, then you lose your home,’” Aurand said. “But there's also research that shows [the reverse]: If you're working in a low wage job and you can't keep up with your rent, then you lose your home.”

The report’s “housing wage” is based on an individual spending no more than 30% of their monthly income on housing costs. Households paying more than that are considered rent burdened; those paying over half of their monthly income for housing are considered severely cost-burdened.

The study’s rental costs are based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fair market rent, which is calculated to represent the cost of a “modest” apartment, Aurand said — typically a little less expensive than the median rent.

Rents across the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area have increased dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic. Median rents shot up 25% in the region since January 2020, according to the latest ApartmentList data.

In a sign that Texas renters are struggling to keep up with the cost of housing, eviction evictions have risen dramatically.

In recent years, federal pandemic-era supports gave lower-income people a financial cushion and safety net programs like rental assistance kept eviction rates low. Now, that aid is largely gone and savings have been eaten up by inflation, and eviction rates have increased dramatically. Texans in some parts of the state losing their homes at higher rates than before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Texas lawmakers voted to strip cities and counties of the ability to curb eviction rates during the just-ended legislative session.

Potential solutions

Solving the nation’s massive shortage of affordable housing is a complicated and long-term problem.

We really have two failures: We have market failure when the market does not serve those [low-income] renters because what they can afford to pay in rent, it doesn't pay landlords [enough] to cover their costs,” he said. “At the same time, we have not put in adequate resources into our federal affordable rental housing programs.”

At the federal level, Aurand said more funding and policy changes are needed to increase the construction of subsidized housing across the country, and to increase the number of housing vouchers available to help low-income renters afford homes, he said. Just one in four people who households who qualify for a housing voucher actually gets one.

Roughly four times as much federal money goes to homeowner subsidies than to housing assistance for low-income renters.

But it’ll also take local and state interventions to address the problem, he said, like local zoning rules that make it difficult to build affordable apartments and townhomes.

While many states bar landlords from discriminating against voucher holders, Texas has done the opposite: State lawmakers in 2015 made it illegal to punish landlords who refuse to rent to people because they rely on a housing voucher to help pay the rent.

Ultimately, Aurand said, the nation’s affordable housing shortage is a long-term problem, and it’ll take long-term solutions and bold action to tackle the problem.

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.