Apartment dwellers are finding it a lot harder to enjoy champagne living arrangements on a beer budget in Fort Worth and Arlington.
For many years, the western part of the Metroplex was known as a place where renters could get the best of both worlds — the frills of living in a major metropolitan area with a lease that didn’t break the bank.
But now rents in Tarrant County are being pushed up by a combination of factors: rising property values, the region’s dramatic job growth and a tight supply of available apartments.
The median cost of a two-bedroom apartment in Fort Worth is now $1,140 a month, up from $970 less than four years ago, according to Apartment List, a consumer search service. In Arlington, the median rent for a two-bedroom unit is now $1,200, up 9 percent in the past year.
And although many new complexes are under construction to meet the growing demand, many of the new units are aimed at an upscale clientele, with amenities such as quartz countertops and Bluetooth wiring. Rents ranging from $1,900 to $2,300 a month for a two-bedroom apartment aren’t unusual.
Some residents on a budget say they’re being chased out of Fort Worth by the higher prices.
“It is heartbreaking. My heart is in the city,” said Nicole Renee Kerby, 32, who recently moved from her apartment in Fort Worth’s medical district to live with her father in the Ellis County city of Red Oak — 42 miles away.
Kerby’s monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment had jumped to $935 (plus a $30 pet fee) this summer, up from $825 when she moved in a little over two years ago.
A change in jobs led to Kerby’s decision to leave the city. She had worked for several years at Old Neighborhood Grill, but decided to take a job at another restaurant to make more money. But that job didn’t work out and Kerby found herself unemployed.
She hopes to return to Fort Worth in the next year, perhaps to attend Tarrant County College and complete an associate degree — if she can find a place to live that fits her budget.
‘What people want’
Rental rates have been steadily climbing since 2014, fueled mainly by the region’s job growth.
An estimated 31,800 apartment units are being built across North Texas to meet demand and should be completed by the end of the year, according to Marcus and Millichap, a nationwide commercial real estate firm with offices in Fort Worth and Dallas. But many of the new units are aimed at urban professionals with higher rents.
Rhonda McLaughlin, a relocation specialist with Bridge Residential Property Services, said there has been unmet demand for high-end apartment living in Fort Worth for many years.
“This is what people want,” McLaughlin said on a recent morning, after offering visitors a tour of two luxury complexes under construction along West Seventh Street. “I don’t think people experience sticker shock with prices like these anymore.”
One of the developments McLaughlin showed off is named The Flats at Alta Leftbank, being built just east of Montgomery Plaza. The complex features everything from a 395-square-foot studio apartment leasing for $900 to a 4,900-square-foot town home listed at a jaw-dropping $8,000 a month.
At the Flats, most of the apartments have one or two bedrooms. But there is also a row of town homes facing downtown Fort Worth — each featuring three stories of living space, a ground-floor garage and a rooftop deck.
Next door, at the The Lofts at Alta Leftbank, guests can enjoy the use of a miniature bowling alley in the lobby, and the apartments sport expensive quartz countertops and the spacious feel of 12-foot-high ceilings.
The apartments come wired for Bluetooth, so residents can play music from their phones and operate other wireless electronics as they walk room to room.
A two-bedroom apartment with a large walk-in closet and walk-in shower goes for about $1,900 to $2,000 a month, depending on whether it features an unobstructed view of Fort Worth’s skyline.
All of the apartments are within walking distance to the popular West 7th bars and restaurants, and just a few hundred feet from a Tom Thumb supermarket, a pharmacy and a Starbucks, making it possible to take care of most errands without driving.
“We’re getting a lot of interest from people who are from out of state, and people working at Lockheed and Bell [Helicopter],” said Rachel Riviello, leasing director at The Flats.
McLaughlin chimed in: “Living this close to West 7th is on a lot of people’s bucket list.”
Property tax pinch
At older apartment buildings, rental rates are being pushed up not just by the tight supply of apartments but by rising property values that have driven up tax bills for landlords.
Adam Stahl and his parents own and operate the Dorothy Lane Apartments, a pristine collection of 27 units tucked away in a neighborhood between the Cultural District and the Monticello neighborhood. They also own several other homes in the area — a total of 56 units for rent — and often lease to medical students at the University of North Texas Health Science Center just two blocks away.
The Stahls have been west Fort Worth landlords since the early 1980s.
Stahl, 30, said his family is trying to hold the line on rents but may have to raise them to make up for higher property taxes. The value of the family’s real estate has increased nearly 39 percent since 2012, according to Tarrant Appraisal District records, which amounts to several thousand dollars a year in additional property taxes.
“Some of the people have been here for 20 years. They have become pretty much like family,” Stahl said. “We want to maintain that relationship and not make anyone feel like they’re being gouged.”
At Dorothy Lane Apartments, prices range from $495 to $725 a month for a studio apartment to $725 to $895 for a one-bedroom unit. The family also has duplexes for $895 to $1,050, and a 1,500-square-foot house for $1,500. Prices have gone up somewhat in recent years to cover the rising property taxes, Stahl said, but he didn’t provide specifics.
Normally, apartment complexes tend to have up to 5 percent of their units vacant at any given time. But the area’s continued job and population growth has led to a much lower vacancy rate.
For example, in south Fort Worth only 2.1 percent of apartments were vacant in the second quarter of this year, according to Marcus & Millichap. In west Fort Worth, 2.9 percent of units were vacant and, in south Arlington and Mansfield, the vacancy rate was 3.1 percent.
The increase in rents should moderate as the new apartments under construction are completed by the end of the year, said Chris Salviati, a housing economist at Apartment List and former researcher at the Federal Reserve.
Between 2010 and 2015, North Texas added 2.3 jobs for every apartment unit added to the market, exceeding the typical pace. For the overall economy, it’s a good problem to have, Salviati said.
“We usually think adding one to two jobs per unit is a balanced market, so in Dallas and Fort Worth obviously it is at least partially an issue of the supply of housing not keeping up with the demand,” Salviati said. “But you guys are building up fairly quickly.”
Salviati said Fort Worth is among a small group of cities, including Austin and Seattle, experiencing higher rental rates due to robust job growth.
Salviati said residents can expect to see new apartment complexes built not only in newer suburban areas but also as in-fill projects in older neighborhoods such as Fort Worth’s Near Southside, where several large and modern complexes have recently opened.
Meanwhile, longtime residents such as Randi Frances, an artist who recently returned to Fort Worth after a three-year absence, are still getting over how expensive it has become to live in their city.
“I am majorly struggling with that — finding an affordable, safe place,” Frances wrote in a lengthy Facebook discussion of the matter with her friends. “I didn’t expect so much difference and change in the three years I was gone.”