The state's Affordable Housing debacle: Who should say what projects get built in Texas?

In Texas, affordable housing projects are competitive to build.

Each project seeking federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development applies through a statewide point system for selection. Currently, the points system takes into consideration developer support from a county commissioner's court, local neighborhood associations and a representative in the Texas House.

For example, Travis County recently missed out on roughly $7.8 million worth of affordable housing development tax credits because a proposed project failed to gain local support from state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who could have helped the project rank higher.

Up until 2013, the Texas Senate was also involved in the decision. But that year the Sunset Review of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs recommended eliminating input from state senators and representatives because of their distance from what are often hyperlocal issues.

With then-state Sen. Dan Patrick leading the charge, the Senate easily eliminated its influence in the process, but the House has clung to its part in the process.

In 2017, a number of bills have been filed to reduce this state perspective, in favor of returning more input to local communities.

House Bill 616, filed by state Sen. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, would do just that.

Leach said when he started as a state elected official, he found that much of his time was consumed by evaluating individual real estate deals within his district.

"After this happened a number of times, I took the position, members, that I was going to remain completely neutral on any housing tax credit projects in my district," Leach told the House Urban Affairs Committee at a hearing Tuesday. "I quickly learned that my neutral position meant that no housing tax credit projects would be built in my district."

The Plano legislator said he would like to return the decision making power back to the locals.

Many have argued that state representatives, who can represent large swathes of land, sometimes multiple counties and often more than tens of thousands of people, are not equipped to make decisions about projects specific to one community.

Especially in unincorporated areas, like the ones surrounding Harris County such as Cypress and Tomball, this issue has been a prominent topic within Texas House of Representative races.

For example, in the race for House District 130, state Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, defeated his Republican primary challenger Kay Smith. In her campaign, Smith declared she would use her position to prevent affordable housing projects from being built in the area.

"The state representative is the only person that can represent their constituents and prevent a development from coming into the area," Smith said in an interview with Community Impact in November.

Oliverson, who won the election, said he would oppose legislation such as Leach's bill to take away House input.

“Not on my watch,” he said. “We are much more in a position [than the Senate] to make a decision on a project— yay or nay.”

Leach's bill was left pending in committee but is co-authored by the Committee's Chairwoman, state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. Leach is the committee vice chair.

Other bills on the same topic include:

  • House Bill 885, filed by state Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian. The bill would add Senate input back into the process. King said he wishes he could eliminate all state influence, but absent that, he would like to revive Senate input.

  • House Bill 1609, filed by state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo. The bill would provide stipulations for when a state representative can provide input. The bill limits state input only to when the representative's district contains a portion of a county with a population of more than 450,000.

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