Access to affordable housing and an unstable economy were the main concerns cited by Houstonians in the latest annual Houston Area Survey released Monday by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.
One of the biggest shifts in this year’s findings was the unease surrounding the rise of housing costs – with 20 percent of respondents saying this was the largest issue they faced compared to only 7 percent in 2022, according to Daniel Potter, the Institute’s senior director of research.
This concern was shared across ethnicities, races and income levels, but did have some disparity between younger and older populations – as older residents tend to already be homeowners, while younger residents may be planning for this in the future.
The increase in inflation and rising costs of housing, makes the option to be a homeowner increasingly out of reach for Houstonians, Potter said.
The housing market is not what it was 10 years ago, when a majority of Houstonians were able to afford; however, Potter said, living in the city is not yet fundamentally unaffordable.
“Additional effort is what’s needed to make sure that we continue to have that inclusive prosperity and space where you can roll into Houston and get ahead and buy a house – because right now, we can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t want to turn into your Austins, San Franciscos or New York Citys, where housing is basically inaccessible to the average person.”
Many respondents’ financial limitations do not end here, as less than 30 percent said their economic standing got better in the last three years, according to the report.
Potter said this is a relatively stagnant number that has remained consistently low in the past several years, he said.
Those who said they expected to have a better financial future typically have a higher level of education or certification, “If I am around with a college degree my last three years went well and I am optimistic about the next three – it’s the folks without degrees that are high school graduates that are at the lower end of the scale.”
That’s not to say job opportunity is down, as many jobs lost – around 500,000 during the pandemic – have since been replaced; however, many may require secondary education leaving those who do not have it at a disadvantage.
Potter said job insecurity during the pandemic did create a public consciousness of people’s financial circumstances. He said this led to 72 percent of respondents saying action should be taken to bridge wealth disparities.
This is the highest overall number of those in support of finding a way to close the distance between the rich and the poor recorded in the survey’s history, he said.
According to Potter, many of the social issue trends also reflected an awareness of others’ situations as 80 percent of those participating supported pathways toward citizenship for those living in country without documentation and 58 percent of respondents reported no moral opposition to abortion.
“I think a good way to look at this holistically is to see a sort of silver lining in trends pointing to an awareness of something outside of ourselves,” he said. “Some of the trends we’ve seen before, but now we are seeing trends that are easily interpreted as an embracing of progressive ideals by the Houston area and there’s evidence of that – which is an interesting sort of shift over the past year in the area.”
However, he said there is no indication that these trends will continue in the coming years as they can shift given changes in participants’ beliefs, he said.
This was the 42nd annual Houston Area Survey conducted by the Kinder Institute – the country’s longest running metropolitan study of its kind. This year’s was the first without its founder, Stephen Klineberg, who retired last year after directing them for four decades.
This year’s survey was conducted using the recently established Greater Houston Area Community Panel – a group of about 3,200 Houstonians that the Institute plans to distribute the survey to each year.
Researchers also have the opportunity to use this population to conduct quarterly reports in the future targeting specific topics.
Potter said crime – the third main issue reported this survey – may be one of the first explored in these quarterly reports. This year’s report only collected data about gun ownership.
The final sample used in this year’s reported included 1,916 respondents, with 63 percent of respondents female, 37 percent male, 50 percent White, 21 percent Black. 19 percent Hispanic, 9 percent Asian – with an average age of 51 years old.
To ensure that each group of respondents every year is representative of Houston’s diverse population, researchers will apply “weights” – or include different characteristics of population based off other surveys such as the census, Potter said.
“It doesn’t do anybody any good to have a survey that is just reflective of a certain segment of society or social structure,” he said. “It’s important to get the voice of everybody, to reflect the differences that exist across our city and county.”