AUSTIN, Texas — Rent in the Austin area increased by 18.3% from February 2020 to February 2022, but the value of housing choice vouchers increased by only 6.7% over that same period.

What You Need To Know

  • Austin/Travis County is the second worst municipality in the U.S. for housing choice vouchers

  • A Zillow report found only one voucher is available for every nine cost-burdened families

  • The national data also shows Travis County’s rent prices outpace voucher values by over 20%

  • Nationwide, rent increased 18% from 2020 to 2022, but voucher values increased by less than 7%

Housing voucher programs are failing to provide housing for low-income renters, especially in Texas, according to recently released data. New research from Zillow shows Travis County’s rent prices are outpacing voucher values by more than 20%. The city of Austin ranks one of the worst for available vouchers, and even if those who have one are struggling to find affordable housing.

Lisa Rheams is moving out of her North Austin apartment, not by choice, but because of housing choice voucher.

“I would have liked to stay, but getting a voucher forced me to go and look for a house,” she said.

The single mother finally got approved for a housing voucher in August. You wouldn’t believe how long she’s been waiting.

“My youngest son is 16, my baby was a baby,” Rheams said.

Nearly two decades later, she has a voucher, but she’s still at the back of the line. Her apartment has a long waiting list for voucher holders, just like a majority of the 40 other buildings Rheams says she visited. The rest of them turned her away.

“It was actually easier to pay cash rent here like, it was more affordable that way then it was when I got the Section 8,” she said.

To make matters worse, after six months of no luck, her voucher expired before she found a place to live.

Zillow ranks Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown as the second worst municipality in the nation for the ratio of cost-burdened households outnumbering available vouchers. Even if there is eligible housing with available units, the study found vouchers aren’t worth as much anymore.

From 2020 to 2022, “the typical rent increased 18% nationwide while the value of housing vouchers rose by only 7%.”

Michael Depland works for the policy and advocacy nonprofit Texas Housers. He says vouchers aren’t only hard to get, they’re even harder to use.

“With source of income discrimination still legal… a manager or landlord will simply say that we don’t accept it,” Depland said.

Texas Housers is currently backing legislation to strengthen the voucher program. Depland says there aren’t enough landlords enrolled in the program, nor is there enough funding to support the current demand.

“There’s so many things that we can do and it just feels like we’re not doing anything,” he said.

Rheams got an extension for her voucher and finally found an apartment. She says the value of her voucher wasn’t worth the wait.

“My thought of Section 8 since I was young was, it means we’re doing better,” she said. “It’s kind of not helping us.”

In the top 100 cities in Zillow’s report, four other municipalities in Texas made the list addition to Austin:

  • Houston is ranked 7th
  • Dallas is ranked 28th
  • San Antonio is ranked 36th
  • El Paso is ranked 54th
  • McAllen-Edinburg Mission is ranked 86th

According to the HUD Housing Data Dashboard, out of the 6,414 Texas families to serve, 3.65% percent of total units in the state have “leasing potential.”

That’s roughly 250 cost-burdened families who are able to lease rental units out of nearly 6,500 who need housing, and that percentage has been decreasing since 2015.