By Andrea Lucia

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Finding an apartment to rent in the DFW Metroplex is getting harder and more expensive.

According to RealPage, there are 70,000 more renters here today than there were before the pandemic, the largest increase in the country.

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That’s driven up the cost of new leases by 16% in the past year, a record high.

“It was very heartbreaking because we lived there for 6 years. We’ve always paid rent on time,” said Frances Salinas, whose family was priced out of their home earlier this year.

Her complex, she says, raised the rent by $500 a month and told her family they no longer qualified to live there.

“Because we no longer make three times the rent amount combined,” she said.

Frances works as a teacher’s assistant at Plano ISD. In her free time, she busses tables at a local restaurant. Her husband is a disabled Army veteran. For months, they looked for an affordable home that could fit their family of five.

“We broadened our search to Denton County, went to Carrollton, Little Elm, The Colony, Allen, far east Allen, far east Plano, Richardson, just searching for a reasonable rental that would accommodate all of us, but still that wasn’t too far from our work and our school,” she said. “It was dead end after dead end.”

The competition, she found, was fierce.

“A lot of places we looked at had even after a day on the rental market had already 10 applicants on there,” she said.

Even when she offered to pay more than the requested rent, she still lost out.

“One person was asking $2,000 a month. ‘Let’s give them $2,200 a month’. So, we were literally putting in offers like we were buying the place,” she said.

Realpage’s deputy chief economist, Jay Parsons, reports 97% of rental units in the DFW are occupied and the average rent is $1,387.

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“The rent’s going up as a function of supply and demand. There’s just not enough supply of housing,” he explained.

The median income of renters in the area has also risen to $68,000, another record high.

“DFW is a magnet for people. People are moving from all over the place. They’re coming in here. They’re bringing big incomes.”

If your income hasn’t increased, though, it can be tough to keep up.

Every apartment community is effectively full,” said Ian Mattingly, president of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas.

In his 20 years managing complexes, Mattingly says he’s never seen occupancy levels so consistently high across the Metroplex.

But are landlords raising rent because they have to or just because they can?

“It’s a little bit of both,” he said. “The inflation that we’re seeing in other sectors of the economy impact us in the residential housing industry, perhaps as much as anything, because we buy paint, we buy appliances,” he said.

In some parts of the market, he said, revenue is actually down. He argues, the rise in rent also appears more dramatic because rates barely budged last year.

Whatever the reason, Salinas says, it’s too much for her family. They’re now moving, reluctantly, to Oklahoma to live near family.

“My husband’s really taken it hard. Because he was born in Texas. He was in the Texas National Guard. And he feels like his own state has pushed him out because he can’t afford to live here,” she said.

Parsons says if you’re a renter the best bet is to stay where you are. Renters renewing a lease generally get a better offer than those signing a new one.

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Mattingly, meanwhile, suggests locking in the longest lease you can. Rates, he says, are likely to keep rising.