Skyrocketing rental rates are forcing low-income Temple residents out of their homes
DAVID STONE | OUR TOWN TEMPLE
Susan is lucky. She now has a warm, friendly home while she awaits housing through the Central Texas Housing Consortium. But until recently, the highly educated cancer patient lived in her car.
“I was in my car for about four months,” Susan said earlier today. “I had an apartment, but rent went way up and I had to move.”
Susan is hardly alone. Rental rates have climbed at an alarming rate, forcing low-income residents in Temple and other cities out of their homes. The rate hikes have been fueled by inflation, higher property taxes and in some cases, groups of investors looking for hefty profits.
Corporate investors — including many foreign investors — bought nearly a quarter of US single-family homes that sold in 2021, often driving up once-affordable rents for low-income families in the process.
According to a Stateline analysis of data provided by CoreLogic, the issue is especially problematic in some Sun Belt states, including Texas, where corporate investors often can outbid other buyers, especially Black and Hispanic families. Some local officials in these states are pushing for increased regulation of investor purchases.
These investors bought 24 percent of all single-family houses sold nationwide last year, up from 15 percent in 2012. They bought a third of single-family homes sold in Georgia (33 percent) last year, with Arizona (31 percent), Nevada (30 percent), and California and Texas (both 29 percent) not far behind.
According to Zumper and Point2, online rental services, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Temple on Dec. 10 of this year was $1,238, a 20.8 percent increase over Dec. 10, 2021. About 46 percent of Temple households are renter occupied, and that includes homes, duplexes, trailer parks and apartments.
Like many cities, Temple’s average rent for one-bedroom apartments varies greatly by ZIP Code. Single-bedroom rentals in 76501 average just over $800 per month, while comparable rentals in 76502, 76504 and 76508 average more than $1,200 per month.
The average cost on a single-family rental property in Temple — regardless of number of bedrooms — was $1,743 in August of this year.
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Susan lived in the same 1980s-era apartment complex just off Airport Road for six years, until this past summer.
“I lived in a small two-bedroom apartment,” she said. “I used one of the bedrooms as a crafting room. But in June I got notice that my rent was going up $500 a month to $1,200.”
“I was told that new owners wanted to renovate 95 percent of the complex,” Susan said. “They said they were going to strip the flooring, replace all appliances, remodel the bathrooms — upgrade everything. Then they could rent the apartments to new customers for the $1,200.”
Susan said management implemented the pricing change when leases came up for renewal before any renovations took place. She believes the management wanted current residents who can’t afford the big rent hike to move out and be replaced with people who would pay higher rates for an improved property.
“I had no choice but to leave, and a lot of others did too,” Susan said. “I left on Aug. 8 and lived in my car for four months. I found some safe places, and several churches allowed me to park in their lots. I had a little money saved, but I had to pay movers and get a storage room.”
Attempts by Our Town Temple to contact the apartment community were not successful.
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While prices are increasing in just about every sector — including food, transportation and housing — a $500 increase may seem excessive. But, there are justified reasons for smaller rent increases.
Mallory Anthony, president-elect of Temple Belton Board of Realtors, said some rental rate increases are simply a product of hard economic times.
“Unfortunately, due to external factors such as inflation and increasing property taxes, there are stories like this,” she said. “Investors are needing to increase prices to off-set these new expenses, and for renters, that means increased rent.”
“The situation of the woman battling cancer while living in her car is horrible — that must be extremely stressful, and I’m glad she’s found a resource to help.”
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Susan’s plight improved significantly when a local couple, who asked not to be identified, found Susan parked outside Temple Mall. The couple had learned about Susan’s situation from Jeff Stegall of Feed My Sheep and decided they wanted to meet her.
“Jeff and I work together on some projects, and he ran across this issue and thought I could help,” the woman said this week. “She had applied for housing assistance and was accepted, but there was a communication problem and they weren’t able to get a hold of her. Now, she is back on the waiting list.”
“Susan is the sweetest lady and has health issues,” the woman said. “We met up with her and learned her story. She was about to start chemo and was living in her car.”
“My husband and I went home and talked about it — we have a spare bedroom with an adjoining bathroom,” the woman said. “We prayed about it, and decided we wanted to help.”
Susan moved in with the Good Samaritan couple the week following Thanksgiving, and the new living arrangement is working well.
“We have enjoyed her staying here, and she is now part of the family and will celebrate Christmas us,” the woman said. “She is part of our family forever — that is the missing piece in a lot of homeless cases. She helps out around the house, wraps Christmas presents and takes care of her own laundry and room. She is a joy to be around.”
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Barbara Bozon, executive director of the Central Texas Housing Consortium, an organization that provides financially assisted apartments for local income families in the Temple and Belton areas, said she is familiar with corporate investors looking for a bargain.
“I get lots of calls asking if we want to sell a property, and my answer is always ‘No,’” Bozon said. “Real estate prices have sky rocketed and Central Texas is a desirable area.”
“We are always looking to buy more properties to house low-income Temple-area residents, but it is hard to acquire anything at a reasonable price,” she said. “Our goal has been to increase the availability, so we have bought and renovated properties like French Crossing, Calhoun Square, Virginia Gardens and Thomas Place over the last few years. We own and manage 1,215 units for low-come housing.”
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Casey Mooney, operations director at Feed My Sheep, said the charitable organization has seen a huge increase in rental assistance requests because of escalating rental rates.
“We have had several come in and tell us their rent is going up $500 or more a month,” he said. “While we haven’t necessarily seen more people on the streets just yet, we are anticipating it. I have been inside some of the local properties where the rents are increasing, and they are awful.”
“I’m not sure if these are the same investors who bought the apartments where Susan lived, but the same thing is happening,” Mooney said. “Affordable housing in general is just a huge mess right now. There is hardly anything affordable so even if we have someone that is ready to transition into a home, it’s nearly impossible.”
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Mooney’s concerns that the number of homeless people in Temple may rise is justified, but a joint effort between Temple and Killeen, as well as Bell County and other cities in the county, are developing a county-wide approach to solving the problem.
A year ago, Temple had about 300 homeless people living in shelters, temporary housing, and on the streets and under bridges, and those numbers likely have increased. Bell County has at least 500 homeless residents and that number could top 2,000 by 2030, according to a study taken this year.
The survey was the first phase of the county-wide, multi-city effort to decrease the number of people living in shelters and on the streets of Temple, Killeen and other Bell County cities.
“Our goal is to help people exit homelessness,” said Dr. Robert Marbut, a well-known San Antonio-based consultant who specializes in helping entities reduce homeless populations.
Marbut, who was hired by the cities of Temple and Killeen in April, hit the ground running trying to identify the roots of Bell County’s homelessness problem.
“We’ve been compiling data to develop action steps … the building blocks of the planning process,” Marbut said. “We are identifying the services being provided in Bell County and the gaps in services. Then we will make recommendations for infrastructure improvements and new programming.”
Excellent job, David! So glad you are shedding some light on this important issue!