AUSTIN — “It was up over $400—just like that. My income is not going up $400 a month!”

Austinite Linda Lee recently told local station KXAN the shocking upcoming rent increase for her apartment, highlighting a threat facing countless Texans across the state and one that again sounds the alarm for elected officials to stop the skyrocketing property taxes.

Lee, almost 70 years old, is not alone in her crisis. Her monthly apartment rent was set to increase by nearly 35 percent next year, yet KXAN also reported they received several tips over the past month of similar rent hikes, some as much as 47 percent in one year.

And while those startling numbers are far above the average rent increases in the state, costs are still rising.

According to the Texas Real Estate Research Center, apartment rent rates in San Antonio increased by 6 percent from 2020; those in Dallas-Fort Worth rose 10 percent year-over-year in July; and rents in Austin, the Texas major metro area with the highest cost increase, are forecasted to rise by 11.5 percent compared to just one year ago.

Notably, Austin was also recently expected to be the most expensive U.S. city for homeowners outside California, and Texas also has three of the top 10 worst livable cities in America for minimum-wage employees.

Though numerous factors certainly contribute to the rising cost of housing across the state, one that certainly enflames the problem is when Texas’ local government officials restrict new housing construction and constantly pile higher property tax bills on citizens (bills that are currently some of the highest in the United States).

The Democrat-run Austin City Council, for example, has raised taxes by a startling 150 percent over the last 13 years. In 2008, the council charged the median homeowner $705 on their annual city property tax bill. Today, it’s more than $1,740 and still rising.

Meanwhile, the Dallas City Council has raised the average homeowner’s property tax bill by 65 percent over the last seven years.

Officials charging more money from citizens means everyone in the city has to charge more to pay the higher tax bills—cue apartments raising rents, grocery stores increasing prices, barbershops marking up fees, etc.

On top of that, city officials such as Austin’s have long been criticized for their encyclopedia of construction fees and regulations that have suffocated new affordable housing. Indeed, a 2016 report showed that if a developer wanted to build a four-story apartment complex in Austin, they could end up paying more than $1 million for city hall’s fees and requirements—while in the City of Dallas, they’d only pay roughly $120,000.

All of the city officials’ extra charges mean citizens have to pay that much more in rent or a mortgage.

“One way for places like Austin and California to ensure that current residents aren’t being priced out as housing burdens rise and remain high is to relax zoning restrictions and create paths that make building new inventory easier,” wrote Nicole Bachaud, economic analyst and author of a recent related housing report. “Increasing the supply of more affordable housing units – including high density housing such as townhomes and condos – can also help to ease some of the price pressures for many who find current values unreachable.”

Furthermore, the Republican-controlled state Legislature could have given substantial property tax relief to struggling Texans earlier this year during their regular legislative session, but they chose not to. The state currently has a $7.85 billion budget surplus of taxpayer cash, which they could give back to citizens in the form of property tax relief, but they are on the verge of declining that as their August special session ends later this week.

Meanwhile, nearly 70-year-old Linda Lee said she’s hearing that more and more of her neighbors are having to move out. Lee added she’s considered coming out of retirement so she can afford to stay in her home.

“We’ve all looked at other apartment costs, and they are all like this. It’s not like, ‘Oh gee, there’s a cheaper place around the corner.’ … I could see why some people might end up not having a place to live.”

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.