Space City, Spaced Out

The State of Houston's Rental Market As 2021 Kicks Off

Spoiler: League City is hot.

By Laura Furr Mericas January 4, 2021

Everyone has been buzzing about Houston's the home-buying market in recent months. ICYMI: It’s booming. But where do renters stand? 

After years of increasing rental prices, according to an end-of-the-year report from Apartment List, rent in Houston actually dropped over the course of the pandemic. But not at the same rate as it has been decreasing in other massive metros. To be clear, it’s normal for rents to go up over the years. According to Apartment List, national rents increased by 2.2 percent in 2019, 3.0 percent in 2018, and 1.4 percent in 2017. But in 2020, the median rental rates decreased by about 1.5 percent across the country. As surprising as this sounds, it makes sense—after all, hundreds of Houstonians and thousands of Americans, have been struggling to pay rent as the economic fallout from the pandemic has only increased over the last stretch of 2020. 

Houston isn’t immune. Since March, Greater Houston has seen nine consecutive months of rent decreases, totaling about a 4.5 percent drop in average rent, according to the report. Before the world changed last March, rent was increasing in the Bayou City by about 1.4 percent, year-over-year.

As of December 28, a two-bedrooms apartment in Space City currently costs an average of $1,070 a month, while one-bedrooms go for about $900, the report says. This means renters are now saving between $30 to $50 a month compared to last year. The prices may see a further decline though. On December 31 the federal government's moratorium on evictions ended, and although some people have been able to obtain some form of financial assistance via funds distributed by the nonprofit BakerRipley, or through the City of Houston's direct financial assistance fund, not all have been able to, and the money that has been obtained may not be enough. And of course, the fallout will eventually, even if only temporarily, show up in rental market prices. 

Still, compared to other cities, Houston rent is much more stable. Rent in San Francisco and Seattle has dropped by more than 25 percent since March—don't start plotting your West Coast move just yet though, since the price of a two-bedroom in San Francisco is still about double of that in H-Town. In Boston and New York, rent has dropped by about 20 percent. 

Interestingly, rent in mid-sized metros is on an upward trajectory, which is likely another result of the pandemic. Boise, Idaho, saw the biggest increases in rent prices, growing by about 10 percent since March—more than double the growth the Idaho capital city saw last year. Rent in Chesapeake, Virginia, grew by about 9 percent and Fresno, California, rents increased by about 8 percent since March—mirroring the trend in the home-buying market of demand to move outside big cities. And it makes sense. After all, why pay a fortune to live in an apartment that used to be a closet just to be in Boston when you're working from home anyway and you could get a spacious place for the same price in a smaller city. 

“As the priciest cities lose some of their allure, interest in more affordable mid-sized cities appears to be picking up, potentially driven in part by renters taking advantage of remote work arrangements,” the report states. “As many of us continue to spend the majority of our time at home, it is unsurprising that some are now seeking out new locations where they can afford more space.” 

Houston hasn't been immune to that trend either. While it got a little cheaper to get a place in town this year, some smaller suburbs of Houston actually saw rent increases. Rent in Rosenberg and League City increased by about 2 percent, and Pasadena rents grew by about 1.5 percent. The average price for a one bedroom in League City is now more expensive than in Houston proper, costing about $1,280 a month, as the appeal of wide open spaces sounds better than ever before. And why not opt for space, since we're all on Zoom anyway? 

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