Texas Advocates End Legislative Session with Affordable and Fair Housing Victories

The Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (TxLIHIS), an NLIHC State Coalition Partner, won significant victories during Texas’s 2013 legislative session. Notwithstanding a legislature and governor that rarely supports expanded affordable housing policies and programs, advocates secured passage of legislation that strengthens fair housing standards, protects low income homeowners’ finances in disaster recovery, and saves existing programs from cuts or elimination. TxLIHIS credits its success to a coordinated effort by a broad coalition of advocates, as well as its strategic selection of priorities. Advocates and other stakeholders worked together to ensure that the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) continued its operations and to challenge discrimination in the allocation of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), a program that TDHCA oversees. In 2011, the state legislature passed the TDHCA Sunset Bill, which would have authorized the agency to continue operating for another decade. Governor Rick Perry (R) vetoed the bill, but extended TDHCA’s operations temporarily through 2013. The governor reportedly dismissed the bill due to provisions related to the administration of federal disaster recovery programs. Advocates believe he also was concerned with language that would have reformed the Texas system for allocating LIHTCs. Since 2001, Texas law has given state legislators unprecedented power over the competitive application process for LIHTC projects in their districts. They can influence it through letters of support or opposition, each of which holds considerable weight in the point scoring process for proposed projects. One opposing letter has the potential to defeat an application. According to a 2011 TxLIHIS study, the letters effectively forced proposed low income housing developments from higher income areas and into high poverty, racially segregated areas. The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews state agency policies and programs, recommended removing these letters from the scoring system.During the 2013 session, advocates urged lawmakers to continue TDHCA and revise the LIHTC scoring process. Once the state Senate supported removing letters from the process, advocates turned their attention to the House, where some members proposed increasing the letters’ influence. Both chambers reached a compromise during the session’s final days; although the letters remain part of the scoring process, the points allocated to House members’ letters decreased and Senate members’ letters were eliminated. The final bill also extends TDHCA for twelve years and includes a new local support application threshold requirement, giving local jurisdictions more influence. Advocates are pleased with the requirement, as localities are better positioned to address fair housing challenges, especially with the HUD’s new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing proposed rule (see Memo, 7/19).In addition, TxLIHIS worked closely with Senator Eddie Lucio (D) to win passage of a bi-partisan bill to reduce property taxes on low income homes rehabilitated or constructed with disaster recovery funds. As reconstruction of homes damaged by the 2008 hurricanes were completed, reports surfaced that their reappraised value resulted in homeowners’ property taxes increasing to unaffordable rates, in some cases more than 400%. The bill caps the taxes of reconstructed homes to pre-storm levels and then permits an increase of no more than 10%. Advocates are pleased with the bill’s timing as the 5,000 single family homes now under construction for mostly low income families will remain affordable to them.Advocates were also successful in blocking a bill that would have weakened a model subdivision rule that prevents the creation of new colonias—underdeveloped subdivisions—along the Texas-Mexico border. These 2,900 substandard developments are home to approximately 440,000 people, and often lack basic infrastructure like running water, sewage systems and electricity. This victory shuts down a six-year effort by a small group of developers to scale back the rule. “These are tough times for people with low incomes in Texas,” said, John Henneberger, co-director of TxLIHIS. “We keep trying unsuccessfully to expand the resources that the state provides for housing the poor, but all we have been able to do is protect what little we have. But, along with the Texas Association of Community Development Corporations (another NLIHC State Partner) and other advocates, we have come together to protect the housing rights of the poor, despite the difficult political environment in which we operate.”For more information, contact Chrishelle Palay, [email protected]