Texas ranks at the bottom for affordable and available housing for Extremely Low Income renters. This is what Congress must do to help.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition publishes the Gap Report every March to assess the shortage of affordable and available for low-income households. The 2021 edition of the report has assembled its findings using 2019 ACS data, so we are viewing a snapshot of low-income households right at the financial cliff prior to COVID-19, where we saw massive job loss and an economic downturn for many Americans, especially low-income families.

Across the nation, there is a shortfall of almost 7 million affordable and available homes for Extremely Low-Income renters. In Texas alone, the shortage is nearly 600,000 homes.

In the United States, there are 37 homes affordable and available homes for every 100 Extremely Low-Income renter household. In Texas, that number falls to 29. In cities like Houston, second worst in the nation, that number falls to 19. No state or major metropolitan area has an adequate supply of rental homes affordable and available for extremely low-income renters.

It is no coincidence that three Texas metropolitan areas (Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin) are in the bottom 11 in the country for affordable and available housing for ELI renters. It’s a punishing reality that is the result of the lack of government will to promote affordable housing.

Policies that can help house ELI and other low-income families can get caught in a political stranglehold in our home state. Housing Choice Vouchers are an exceptional tool to help house individuals and families and empower low-income people to move to a neighborhood of their choosing. However, Texas does not have Source of Income discrimination laws, so landlords often reject voucher holders legally. Also, cities in Texas have very little HUD subsidized housing. As cited in the Gap Report below, Houston has only 4% HUD-assisted rental stock, and yet 79% of the Extremely Low-Income renters who live here are severely cost-burdened, meaning at least half of their income goes to rent payments in a month.

While the impulse to solve this problem would be to simply create more housing, the solution to this issue must be far more precise. As demonstrated in a graph from this year’s report, the number of units for Extremely Low Income renters is already limited, and the renters who can afford more expensive housing still take a share of their small supply.

The Gap is also a racial equity issue. Black and Latino households are less likely than white households to be homeowners and more likely to be extremely low-income renters. In fact, 34% of Black renters , 37% of American Indian or Alaska Native renters, and 27% of Latino renters are Extremely Low-Income. This compares to 21% of white renters who live under similar circumstances.

Considering this, we need to ensure that we are helping the renter directly first, in addition to creating the housing. While the situation may seem daunting, there are several things that government can do to help Extremely Low-Income renters stay housed.

For example, the CDC moratorium instituted during the COVID-19 crisis was a measure that likely saved thousands of lives by keeping families housed. However, as Texas Housers has previously noted, it is far from perfect. The Gap report advocates that the eviction moratorium must be extended until the end of crisis — not just until the end of social distancing requirements but until households are again able to pay their rents. It must also be strengthened to make it easier for renters to receive protection and to ensure that landlords comply.

But moratoriums only provide so much protection, the rent is still due at the end of the day. This is why we call for a permanent housing safety net to protect tenants. This includes measures such as National Housing Stabilization Fund for those facing housing instability, eviction, or homelessness due to economic shock.

Expanding Housing Choice Vouchers was a campaign issue that President Biden plans to execute in his first term, with every eligible household receiving assistance. Currently, only 1 in 4 of those who are eligible for Housing Choice Vouchers receive the assistance. But with this expansion, we also need Source of Income to become a protected class to ensure that these vouchers must be accepted by law.

There are more measures we can support like expanding resources for the Housing Trust Fund, improving the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, increasing capital investment in improving public housing, and sufficiently funding the preservation of Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) and USDA rural housing. The good news is that in there are several bills currently in Congress supporting all of these issues.

You can read the 2021 Gap Report below.