Video: Texas Senate committee briefed on affordable housing issues

This week our co-director, John Henneberger, was asked to speak before the state Senate’s Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, to brief members on the important affordable housing issues facing the state as the legislative session unfolds.

John touched on three main points: the lack of affordable housing options, the substandard nature of much of the state’s existing affordable housing and ways that the state can get more involved in solutions.

Watch the full testimony here, or read John’s complete remarks below:

I’m John Henneberger, co-director of the nonprofit Texas Low Income Housing Information Service. Since 1988, we have worked for safe and decent housing in quality neighborhoods for all Texans.

I’ll briefly highlight three Texas housing problems and some low-cost solutions for the committee to consider.

1) There is a massive shortage of housing affordable for the poor.

About three in four low-income renters and homeowners are burdened by excessive housing costs. There is just one subsidized affordable home for every five cost burdened Texas households. Poor families cannot afford private market rents.

Texas’ Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $872. To afford this level of rent plus utilities – without spending more than 30 percent of income on housing – a family must earn the equivalent of 2.3 minimum wage earners working 40 hours per week.

To respond to all housing needs the state provides only about $13 million from state revenues per year, including administrative costs. The State should expand the revolving Texas Housing Trust Fund and create a Texas affordable housing tax credit.

The state also has a new opportunity to expand affordable housing through the National Housing Trust Fund. This federal program is set to begin next summer and could provide Texas with more than $10 million each year. Another new federal deregulation allows Texas the option to increase our state’s CDBG allocation for colonia housing programs by $3 million each year.

2) Much of the state’s affordable housing is substandard, and located in places unhealthy for children to live.

Low income communities are far more likely to be located in floodplains, closer to environmental hazards, and have higher crime rates and failing schools. The state should fund flood control and public safety in border colonias.

The state should also continue its commitment to see that a fair portion of new housing is built in better neighborhoods.

The repeated tragic deaths of children due to fires in crowded, substandard mobile homes should lead the state to partner with local fire officials, banks and the manufactured housing industry to replace obsolete, dangerous mobile homes where children, the elderly and people with disabilities live.

3) Most state housing programs are effective for the few families they are funded to serve. But there is room for improvement.

A pilot program created through legislation by Chairman Lucio rebuilds disaster destroyed homes at one-half the current cost to the state in one-sixteenth the time. This is a Texas solution to the problems of current federally funded programs that delay people from getting back home after a hurricane or wildfire.

By taking advantage of low-cost, Texas-style solutions, this committee can help close our state’s housing and neighborhood affordability and quality gap.