Seeking solutions to providing low-income housing in rural Texas

Hereford, a Texas Panhandle community of about 15,000, will host an important meeting today to consider how to overcome the barriers to getting affordable housing developed in small towns and rural communities across Texas.

While population growth rates in rural communities are often slower than those in urban communities housing needs in these communities are often just as urgent.  Generally stagnant incomes plague rural Texas.  Major portions of the population are elderly, have low incomes and have limited educations.  These economic and demographic conditions, coupled with an aging and deteriorating housing stock, add up to a pressing need for decent and affordable housing.  Yet, little new housing has been developed in small town and rural Texas in the past quarter century.

In an attempt to understand both the housing needs and factors that have prevented subsidized housing from being developed a pilot program is being carried out in the rural Texas Panhandle counties of Deaf Smith, Castor and Palmer.  Hereford is the largest community in the three county region.

Sponsored by the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, the Association of Rural Communities in Texas, Motivation, Education and Training, Inc. and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, today’s meeting is expected to bring together more than 60 local and state leaders to assess the local housing needs, learn about existing programs, identify structural problems and develop a comprehensive housing plan for the region.

We selected these three counties as the place to begin to assess the needs and effectiveness of current programs because, in many ways, the region is typical of the conditions found across Texas’ rural communities.  Demographically the counties are either slowly losing population or growing at a relatively slow pace.  Economically, while a range of different incomes are present, lower and fixed income households predominate.

The starting point for project is an in-depth assessment of region’s housing needs based on an extensive survey of local elected officials and a detailed market study, both sponsored by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA).  The 199 page regional market study is published on the TDHCA web site.

Local citizens will highlight regional housing needs by describing in detail the housing problems facing local citizens. Participants in the meeting are expected to review the market study and consider the stories of individual housing problems to develop a regional comprehensive housing plan.  Existing housing subsidy programs will be detailed by state and federal agencies responsible for the programs.  Program gaps that prevent existing housing programs from working in the region will be identified and presented to a Texas Senate committee currently reviewing problems in the delivery of affordable housing in rural communities.  The Senate committee will present recommendations for changes in state laws and programs to the upcoming Texas Legislature.

I’ll post updates about this effort in future blog entries.