This story originally appeared on Texas Public Radio.
It’s a weekday at Apartment Locator Service on Blanco Road. This small office is run by Tish Walker, a licensed Realtor who has been finding apartments for people since 1986.
“A lot of the locators have gone out of business now, so we’re one of the few in this general area and, then of course, we have a lot of internet business,” she says.
She’s helping Sammy Sanchez, a 27-year-old renter. He currently pays $950 per month for a one bedroom apartment but wants to lower his rent so he can save to buy a house.
“I like the Shavano Park area, you know, Rogers Ranch. I don’t like Stone Oak because of the traffic,” Sanchez tells her.
Walker takes his information, then starts calling apartments to find one in Sanchez’s price range.
“Talavera has one that 769 square feet for $792,” she says. “Oh perfect, that sounds like a really good deal right there,” Sanchez replies.
Walker says most apartment complexes apply a near universal rule: to qualify you must earn at least three times the rent in monthly income before taxes. Increasingly, that’s a stretch for many families.
The San Antonio Board of Realtors says in the past decade the median price of a two-bedroom apartment or rental property in Bexar County has increased from $675 to $895 a month. That’s a 33 percent hike in rent.
“The average worker that works at some of the fast food places, they will not have a place to live if these rents keep going up because they won’t be able to qualify anywhere,” Walker says.
And according to one recent survey more than half of renters in San Antonio pay more than the recommended maximum of one third their income for housing.
Families like Justin and Amanda Beimer and their young son, who live on the Southeast Side of San Antonio, say the cost of renting has forced them into a neighborhood where they worry about safety.
“It’s, admittedly, not the greatest neighborhood but we have very good neighbors, I’m very happy with that,” Justin Beimer says.
He says they’re paying $745 per month for a two bedroom apartment with their utilities included. It’s more than a third of his monthly income. He works at a call center and has a small IT business on the side. Amanda is a stay-at-home mom.
“Overtime sometimes happens and when it does it makes for a great month, but when it doesn’t it’s a struggle,” he says.
“It can be really tight,” Amanda Beimer says.
She says trying to find a two bedroom in their budget on the more upscale North Side was near impossible.
“You know, it’s like, ‘Okay you can live here, but it’s like $1,000 a month,’” she says. “Oh okay… guess not. And it was frustrating because everything is so expensive for just a little two bedroom apartment that we’re looking for.”
And anything near the newly developed Pearl area or closer to downtown was really out of the question. A one bedroom near the Pearl—with its high-end and local stores and restaurants—starts at $1,050 per month.
Christine Drennon, a professor of urban studies at Trinity University says newer, affordable apartments exist but are hard to find because building them takes specialized financing.
“Apartment buildings are difficult to build and they take up a lot of space. They’re expensive to build for so many reasons, so, who’s going to finance them is one of the questions, and who is going to pay back the financing at those rents so you’re looking at real specialized financing from the state in what’s called tax credits.”
So, what’s the solution for median and lower income renters?
San Antonio’s Mayor Ivy Taylor says education that raises income is part of it.
“We can only do so much to control housing costs. We need our San Antonio residents to be equipped to be able to pay for their basic needs which means for us that we need more people to be highly-skilled and have better jobs.”
Mayor Taylor says a new city housing commission and council members are also looking at ways to encourage affordable building, and may include financial incentives in the city’s 2017 bond proposal.
Finding an answer will be important as San Antonio and the area grow, so the “city on the rise,” doesn’t just become a city of rising rents.