Holly Badman moved to Galveston from The Woodlands three years ago to be closer to the water and spend less time sitting in traffic.
After renting for two years, the 10th-grade English teacher at Ball High School started looking at houses to buy. But on her salary, and with student loans to pay off, the options were very limited, she said.
She faced a dilemma: keep “throwing away money on rent,” move to the mainland and increase her commute, or get creative, she said. She took the third option.
Badman purchased an RV. About $900 a month pays her rent at an RV resort on Galveston’s West End and her bank note, she said. The space is smaller, but also cheaper than the $1,100 she was paying for an apartment on 45th Street, she said.
“I hate to say that I settled for my housing, but at least I’m by the beach,” Badman said.
Badman’s experience mirrors that of many middle-income island residents looking for homes in an increasingly expensive housing market that has many feeling wages haven’t kept pace with the cost of living.
“The salaries here aren’t comparable to the housing, but I love it here,” Badman said.
Some efforts are underway to increase the availability of affordable housing on the island, although the number of available houses and other units is small.
Galveston home values have climbed, particularly in the past five years, said Andrea Sunseri, a Realtor for Sand ‘N Sea Properties with 40 years of experience on the island.
For instance, the median selling price in 2017 was $255,000 compared with $235,000 in 2016, a 9 percent rise, according to data collected by Sand ‘N Sea Properties. Median refers to the price in the middle, meaning exactly half of homes listed are above that price and exactly half are below.
In Galveston County, the median sales price for houses sold in January was $213,450, compared to the $135,000 median price in January 2011, according to the Texas A&M University Real Estate Center.
Nationally, the median home price is closer to $200,000, according to Zillow, an online service that collects real-estate market information.
People are attracted to living on the island and prices are naturally higher in coastal communities, Sunseri said. Buyers also seem to have noticed improvements and investments being made on the island that make it a nice place to live, she said.
Those are positive changes for the community, she said.
But there’s a downside for new home buyers trying to get into the market, she said. It’s increasingly difficult to find houses listed below $200,000, she said.
“We need housing in between $150,000 and $200,000, but what you see are things that need so much work to them and people don’t have the funds for those renovations,” Sunseri said.
There are houses for sale for less than $120,000, but they tend to need a lot of work, she said.
During Badman’s housing searches, she would find condos for less than $100,000 that appeared in her price range, she said. But once wind and flood insurance were added on, as well as homeowner association fees, the condos became out of reach, she said.
It’s not that the housing is more expensive than The Woodlands or Houston, but the salaries don’t reflect the costs, Badman said.
“The salaries on the island aren’t comparable to Houston or even Clear Creek,” Badman said.
Jeff Murdock, president of the Galveston Municipal Police Association, rents on the island, but feels increasingly “priced out,” he said.
“The taxes and insurance are extremely high, and in itself is cost prohibitive,” Murdock said.
Rising housing costs — including the sale price and insurance — have, over the years, driven some island workers out of the community in search of larger inventory of newer construction and cheaper rents, said Patricia Bolton-Legg, president of the Galveston Housing Corporation board.
The corporation has tried to increase the stock of moderately priced homes on the island by building and selling homes below local market value, she said. Earlier this month, the group had a tour of five homes it’s building on 34th and Winnie streets.
Once completed, the homes will be eligible for sale to families with a household income between $31,746 and $57,200 annually, according to the corporation.
For lower income workers, including hourly workers in the island’s tourism industry, the housing market is even more challenging, said Ted Hanley, the executive director of The Jesse Tree and a longtime social services worker.
Along with real estate costs, residents have anecdotally noted increases in monthly costs for rental properties. And rooms or small inexpensive apartments are difficult to find for temporary and seasonal workers in the tourism and seafaring community, Hanley said.
The challenges of finding inexpensive places to rent, seasonally or year-round, has historically been an issue, Hanley said.
But increasingly, those difficulties also extend to people and families who earn wages closer to what is considered middle income, said Steve McIntyre, an organizer of the annual Living Wage Conference hosted in Galveston.
“It’s now harder for middle-income folks to find a decent house on the island,” McIntyre said.
A rule of thumb provided by the federal housing department is to keep rent costs less than a third of a person’s monthly income, McIntyre said.
The median household income in Galveston averaged between 2012 and 2016 was about $42,000 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The rule of thumb for home buying is closer to two-and-a-half times a person’s annual income to have extra money available for costly repairs and taxes, according to the housing department.
“How many houses are for rent or for sale at those prices?” McIntyre said. “The spectrum and market is changing.”