Three Graphics Show Why Everyone is Talking About Affordable Housing

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Where a family of four earning 50 percent of the median income can live (Dark equals unaffordable)

Everyone within earshot of knows that Dallas housing prices have been on a tear for the past five-ish years for both purchasers and renters.  I recently concluded a series on affordable housing options in Southern Dallas. I went because it’s fast becoming one of the few places that remains affordable to ever-larger numbers of people as wages haven’t kept pace with housing costs.

Last Wednesday, Dallas City Council listened to the presentation of data compiled by consultants called the Reinvestment Fund.  They essentially inventoried and mapped the city’s housing stock and paired it with racial makeup and income.  They did this because Dallas needs better data if it hopes to address affordability (better than its miserable history). Of course, most of it we know anecdotally. North Dallas rich. Southern Dallas poor.

But let’s look a little deeper, shall we?

Note: Before we begin, the A-to-I designations on each graphic corresponds to a type of housing defined by multiple variables. For the purposes here, “A” properties have median sales prices over $1 million whereas “G, H and I” properties have a median price declining from $91,300 to $41,500.

The above graphic lists where a family of four earning 50 percent of the median Dallas income of $45,215 could live within the city.  You might think the median income is too low and even Reinvestment Fund at one point listed $73,400 as a median.  But here’s the thing, the $45,215 number is Dallas proper while the $73,400 number is the Dallas area, i.e. Park Cities and the burbs too, which are wealthier simply because there is less poverty. Of course the goal should be to raise Dallas proper closer to Dallas area numbers.

But anyway, back to the above graphic.  Fifty percent of $45,215 is $22,600. That equates to one full-time job paying $11.30 per hour. Since 2008, the Texas (and Federal) minimum wage has stood at $7.25 per hour or $15,080 per year. If you’re a tipped worker (restaurant workers, bartenders, etc.) your minimum wage is $2.13 per hour. These workers must generate $5.12 per hour in tips just to equal minimum wage. On the surface, this may seem easy when restaurants are busy or higher-priced … but restaurants aren’t always busy or expensive.  And let’s not forget we’ve all seen wait staff berated and harassed by customers and their management with little power to say, “Enough.”

Last night I was watching Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkley.  She spoke about how female wait staff are encouraged by management to dress provocatively to generate more tips (resulting in more harassment). One of the most complained about restaurant chains was Denny’s … surprised me too.  And it goes without saying that minorities habitually and systematically make less in these industries.

Anyway, the above map shows that there’s very little that’s affordable to people generating $11.30 per hour, which is 35 percent more than minimum wage. Next time you patronize businesses trumpeting their $10 per hour wages, wonder where their workers live. When you’re visiting elderly folks living in expensive neighborhoods, realize the caregivers who make similarly low wages are safeguarding a loved one’s life.

To even afford this low level of housing you’re talking about 1.5 full-time minimum wage jobs. That’s a 60-hour week or two working adults to live in terrible conditions.

Where a family of four can live in Dallas earning 80 percent of median income

Moving up the chain, here’s where you can live at 80 percent of the median Dallas income. That equates to $36,160 per year or $18.08 per hour of full-time employment. Many more areas of the city open up, but they’re still mostly in Southern Dallas with small pockets to the north.  Staying within food service, according to, 75 percent of full-time wait staff earn less than $29,968 per year including tips – and that with anything up to 20+ years of experience. Remember, the lion’s share of food servers are slinging popcorn shrimp, not shrimp cocktail. In order to move upwards from this category, you’ll need two full-time workers making these salaries to afford to the next bump.

Where a family of four can live in Dallas earning 120 percent of median income

Even at 120 percent of median income or $65,068 per year, $32.53 per hour, there are many neighborhoods where local police, fire, and teachers can’t afford to live. Returning to, an average teacher or patrol officer in Dallas earns in the low-to-mid $50,000 range whereas the median salary for a firefighter is about $45,000 per year. In order not to be cost-burdened, housing costs should be a third of your salary.  Subtracting some assumed taxes, earning $65,000 per year equates to a rent or mortgage/taxes monthly spend of $1,300 … for a family of four.

You’ll notice that north of I-30, virtually nothing opens up for residents earning less than 120 percent of the median income. Those graphics show exactly why lower-priced housing in Northern Dallas flies off the shelves these days. For those wanting to live south of I-635 it’s nearly impossible without crossing I-30 or suburbanizing yourself.

Since I’ve outgrown my suburban phase, were I looking for reasonably-priced properties with upside that wouldn’t cripple my budget, I’d check out the Southern Dallas Buyers’ Guide. What I sure wouldn’t do is wait for Dallas to figure this out … ‘cause … well … you know.


Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement.  If you’re interested in hosting a Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors has recognized my writing with two Bronze (2016, 2017) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email



Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

Reader Interactions


  1. Nick says

    Unless it is a new build a waiter may want to rent. It is just easier to control costs. It is not hard for a house to have a $1,000+ problem which put a waiter in a bad position. Unless it is a new build I would recommend renting.

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