A spike in rent squeezes many Houstonians to the fringes

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Job boom helps drive up the cost of apartments all across the region

By Erin Mulvaney

October 31, 2014 | Updated: October 31, 2014 1:27pm

Stephanie Powers’ hunt for an affordable apartment led her farther and farther west as the Houston native found herself forced out of inner-city neighborhoods by staggering rent hikes and, eventually, the demolition of her 1960s-era apartment near the Galleria.

Six months ago, she left her job downtown and took one in the Energy Corridor to cut her commute and balance the costs of living so far outside the 610 Loop.

“I’m not living above my means, but it’s a little more than I like to pay as a single person,” said Powers, 30, an account executive at a pharmaceutical company. “I’m running out of options.”

A job boom bringing highly paid energy workers to Houston and a pronounced decline in the percentage of people buying houses have combined to drive up the cost of living all across the region. Rents here rose nearly 9 percent in the last year, triple the traditional growth rate, driven by occupancy rates that average more than 90 percent and the construction of pricier apartments in such outlying areas as Tomball and Fort Bend County.

Rents for lower-end apartments inside the Loop and in places like Alief are increasing at the fastest rate.

Now 20 miles down Interstate 10 from downtown on the west side, Powers is paying a budget-straining $850 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.

Analysts say that as the middle and working classes are pushed farther out, their pocketbooks take a second hit from higher transportation costs to get to their jobs. At the same time, developers are working to build a stock of high-end luxury apartments close in to attract the oil and gas workers moving to Houston.

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