Access to affordable housing has become a nationwide issue as well as a key talking point for Democrats pushing for the 2020 election to reform policies at the federal level. The city of Houston has been largely impacted by what some are calling an epidemic.
Various arguments have been made that, as cities get bigger, housing permits shrink and property taxes rise. Some cities have imposed a mandatory parking minimum or strict lot sizes. Other local municipalities enforce NIMBY (not in my backyard) policies and restrictive zoning laws, which reduces housing development.
All of these problems have caused housing prices to skyrocket and have pushed many out of their homes, out of their cities, or out on the streets, according to the Houston Housing Authority (HHA).
“The housing authority as an entity does not take a partisan stance. We believe everyone deserves a safe, quality and affordable place to call home,” the HHA's Hannah Vergult said, outlining in detail the housing crisis, the barriers Houstonians face, and solutions the HHA is working towards, in a statement issued to Urban Reform.
“The city ranks fifth in the nation and first in Texas for having the most severe affordable housing shortage with only 19 affordable housing units for every 100 households in need, according to National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). Many Houstonians are severely cost-burdened and spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Every new unit provides an opportunity to improve Houston’s affordable housing crisis,” she added.
Additionally, the HHA stated that workforce professionals within the city, which include teachers, police officers, firefighters and nurses, spend upwards of 40% of their monthly income on housing. Also, according to the Kinder Institute at Rice University, an estimated 215,000 Houstonians spend more than half of their income on housing.
A report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition states: “A full-time worker needs to earn an hourly wage of $22.96 on average to afford a modest, two-bedroom rental home in the U.S. This Housing Wage for a two-bedroom home is $15.71 higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, and $5.39 higher than the national average hourly wage of $17.57 earned by renters.”
The HHA wrote: “In terms of solving this crisis, HHA is taking an active approach to creating more opportunities for Houstonians and putting people on the path to economic self-sufficiency. If the affordability crisis isn’t addressed, thousands of Houstonians will continue to be cost-burdened.”
As for the barriers that the city and HHA face, aside from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the potential threat of another lethal natural disaster, the lack of federal funding is among the toughest obstacles.
“The FY 2021 budget proposes drastic cuts to HUD, which would greatly hurt affordable housing programs,” the authority said. “NLIHC is urging congress not to approve these budget cuts and we agree with this stance. Our programs need more resources and investment to continue making an impact.”
The HHA also touched on the NIMBY mindset, which can delay and/or cancel plans to build affordable, high-quality communities, stating it notices the number of stigmas and misconceptions that drive the NIMBY mindset.
"Many may not realize that they likely know someone in need of affordable housing," the HHA said. "Professionals like teachers, police officers, firefighters and nurses typically earn salaries that struggle to find affordable options.”
Regarding possible solutions, the authority said it is critical to increase affordable housing stock on national, regional and local scales. “HHA aims to tackle Houston’s affordable housing crisis by identifying ways to improve the quantity and quality of housing options, including providing opportunities to increase self-sufficiency among residents and bolstering positive community engagement.
“[We are] planning to develop mixed-income communities throughout the city to help meet the affordable housing demand. The authority is also revitalizing several of its developments.
“HHA seeks additional vouchers to serve more Houstonians. For example, HHA has been award FUP vouchers specifically to help youth aging out of foster care or vouchers specifically designated to help people with disabilities.”