Housing Conditions in Houston
Exploring the state of housing in Houston
More than one-third of people and almost half of renters in the Houston area do not live in adequate and affordable homes, and these problems are on the rise.
Why housing conditions matter to Houston
Having a well-maintained, hazard-free place to live helps Houstonians stay healthy and positively engaged both mentally and physically. When people do not have access to adequate housing, the entire community suffers. Poor housing conditions are associated with a wide range of health issues, such as respiratory diseases, asthma, allergy, lead poisoning, physical injuries, and mental health.1 According to the most recent data, 1.6% of renter households in Houston do not live in adequate homes. Low-income households are more likely to sacrifice housing quality for lower costs by living in units with deficiencies. Overall, housing problems are on the rise across Houston, especially for renters.
By exploring issues of aging housing stock, overcrowding, and severe housing problems, we can take the first step toward improving the health and well-being of our communities.
Houston-area housing stock is newer than in the state or the nation
The age of the housing stock is an important indicator of housing condition. Older housing with a lack of maintenance may lead to poorer housing conditions. Older housing is at risk of exposure to carbon monoxide, allergens, lead paint, and corroded pipes and faucets.2 Older houses are also less energy-efficient than newer homes. Fortunately, the three-county area has newer housing than the rest of the nation and state, though Harris County’s median year built was 1985, slightly older than the state median.
According to the latest data from the 2017 American Community Survey, the median year in which housing was built in the United States was 1978, and in Texas was 1987. In comparison, Houston has relatively newer housing stock. The median year built for Fort Bend County was 2001, compared to 1985 in Harris County and 1998 in Montgomery County.
Breaking down the data, the Houston area and the state have similar age distributions. Overall, the housing stock in Texas is newer than the national average. For example, almost 80% of the nation’s housing units were built prior to 1960, and about a third were built after 1989. For comparison, only 11.1% of housing units in Houston were built before 1960, and almost half of the building stock was added after 1989.
The age of housing stock also varies across the three counties. Harris County has the oldest homes, followed by Montgomery and Fort Bend. Specifically, while 13% of houses in Harris County were built before 1960, only 2% of housing units in Fort Bend and 3% of units in Montgomery were built before 1960, and the majority of housing units in both Fort Bend and Montgomery were built after 1989.
Overcrowding remains an issue across Houston
Overcrowding refers to the compromised health and safety conditions that occur when too many people are placed in a given space (one or more occupants per room). Families will often crowd in with relatives and friends to avoid homelessness, yet people need sufficient space to meet their basic needs. Studies have shown that overcrowding has a negative impact on physical and mental health, and that it impedes childhood growth, development and education.3
Overall, 5.3% of occupied housing units in Houston are considered overcrowded, compared to 4.8% statewide and 3.4% nationally. Furthermore, it is important to note that overcrowding is a much bigger problem for renters than it is for owners.
Among the three counties, Harris County has the most overcrowding. Nearly 6% of occupied housing units in Harris County are overcrowded, compared to 4% in Montgomery County and only 2.6% in Fort Bend County. Additionally, in Harris County, 8.6% of renter-occupied units have more than one occupant per room; more than double the figure for the owner-occupied units.
Since 2010, overcrowding has improved across the nation, state, and three-county area. Going forward, however, it remains an issue, especially in Harris County and for renters across Houston.
Low-income households are more likely to sacrifice quality for cost by living in housing units that have structural issues or deficiencies. Housing problems include units with an incomplete kitchen that lacks running water, stove, or refrigerator and/or plumbing that lacks hot and cold piped water, a flush toilet, or a bathtub/shower. Housing problems contribute to various health conditions, injuries and poor childhood development. For example, plumbing issues increase the likelihood of water leaks that are associated with mold growth that affects respiratory health, increasing the likelihood of asthma; corroded plumbing increases the risk of lead exposure or poisoning.2
According to the data from the 2015 Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS), about 1.0% of housing units in Greater Houston, or 19,000 homes, had kitchen or plumbing problems. Renters are much more likely to experience housing problems than owners. The percentage of housing units with housing problems declined slightly between 2010 and 2015.
Breaking down the data by county, 16,090 (1.1%) of occupied housing units experienced housing problems across Harris County in 2015, compared to 1,815 (1.0%) in Montgomery County and 1.095 (0.5%) in Fort Bend County. That same year, 10,900 (1.6%) renter-occupied units in Harris County had at least one housing problem, compared to 5,190 (0.6%) of the owner-occupied units. The pattern is similar in Fort Bend and Montgomery counties. Overall, renters are nearly three times as likely as owners to live in a dwelling with housing problems.
- Krieger, James, and Donna L. Higgins. “Housing and Health: Time Again for Public Health Action.” American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 5 (2002): 758-768.
- Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. How’s Life? Measuring Well-being. Paris: OECD Publishing, 2011.
- The United Kingdom Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. “The Impact of Overcrowding on Health and Education: A Review of Evidence and Literature.” ODPM Publications, London, 2004. Web.