Frisco businesses struggle to hire with high housing costs

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Businesses struggling to hire with high housing costsA piece of paper taped to the window of the Texadelphia location in Frisco reads “Now Hiring.” Manager Andrew Long said he has had that sign posted for three months with only a handful of applicants to show for it.

Long said he has had better luck finding applicants online because most potential employees do not live in Frisco. He said many of his current employees live in McKinney, Dallas and other surrounding cities. Long himself lives in Plano.

He said he would like to live in Frisco, but his $50,000 annual salary makes it difficult for him to afford housing. Since most potential applicants are in a similar financial position as Long, he said it is difficult to find workers who are willing to commute from another city.

“Not being able to find employees on a consistent basis, sometimes that affects service,” he said. “If it starts to affect the service, then it’s hard to get customers to come back. It’s like a domino effect.”

This hiring struggle is not exclusive to Texadelphia. Tony Felker, Frisco Chamber of Commerce president, said he has witnessed this issue across the city.

“You can’t go to a restaurant anywhere in town without ‘Hiring Now’ signs,” he said.

The school district is also seeing the effects of rising housing costs. For years, Frisco ISD’s highest enrollment has come from its elementary school population. Next year, that trend is expected to shift to the middle school and high school populations.

“You can hypothesize as to why that flip has occurred, and the most consistent one we hear—and we get a lot of nods from Realtors—is that Frisco is no longer a place where young families with elementary age kids can afford such a thing as a starter home,” former Superintendent Jeremy Lyon said at a meeting in March. “There is no starter home in Frisco anymore.”Businesses struggling to hire with high housing costs

Affording Frisco

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, families who pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs are considered cost-burdened. These families may have difficulty paying for necessities, such as food and transportation. The current statistics from the city of Frisco show that nearly 41 percent of renters and 24 percent of homeowners are cost-burdened.

Businesses struggling to hire with high housing costsThe median monthly rent and mortgage in Frisco has steadily increased, according to city data from the past five years. Based on the calculated housing costs as of the beginning of this year, homeowners would need an income of $93,640 to afford the median monthly mortgage in Frisco without being cost-burdened. Renters would need to earn $54,200 to afford the median monthly rent.

In Texas, the average salary for a job in the restaurant industry is about $70,000 less than what is needed to afford Frisco’s median monthly mortgage and about $30,000 less than the salary needed to pay the median monthly rent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Businesses struggling to hire with high housing costsThe average salary for an FISD teacher is $54,526, which is slightly more than what is needed to make the median monthly rent.

“Affordability of housing and cost of living are often significant factors in the decision-making process for educators seeking employment,” said Pamela Linton, FISD assistant superintendent of human resources. “Bearing this in mind, we know that offering competitive compensation—including pay and benefits—is critical to the district’s goal of recruiting and retaining the highest quality staff.”

The average salary for a Frisco police officer and firefighter is $73,755.44 and $72,625.76, respectively, both of which are less than what is needed to afford the median monthly mortgage in Frisco. Frisco’s police and fire department officials said the cost of housing has not affected recruiting efforts.

City officials have acknowledged the issue of affordability in Frisco. Several organizations exist to help lower-income families and individuals afford a house or apartment in the city, such as the Social Services and Housing Board and the Frisco Housing Authority.

In addition, three apartment complexes in Frisco offer nearly 400 tax credit housing units, which are reserved for tenants who earn less than a certain percentage of the area medium income.

There are challenges to bringing in more affordable housing options to the city, Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney said. Property owners have the freedom to set their own prices, and the city cannot force developers to offer housing at a certain price, he said.

“Texas is very much a property-rights state,” Cheney said. “You can’t force anyone with what they can do with their property.”

Still, some houses in Frisco are selling at reasonable prices, Cheney said. Within the past year, almost 900 homes in the city were sold for less than $300,000.

Defining affordable housing

When most people talk about affordability of housing in Frisco, they are not referring to government programs to assist lower-income residents, Cheney said. Rather, many are referring to the rising cost of living in the city, especially in regard to tax bills, he said.

Rising property values have resulted in an increasing amount of taxes residents pay each year. To help alleviate increasing tax bills, Frisco City Council approved a 7.5 percent homestead exemption in June.

Some Frisco residents do qualify for tax credit housing. The Housing Tax Credit Program offers a tax break to developers who provide affordable rental housing. Developers can choose how many of their units to offer as tax credit units. Tax credit housing is not offered through or regulated by the city.

Another government-assisted tool used to help low-income families afford housing is a Section 8 voucher. But Frisco Housing Authority—a federally authorized local housing organization that would be the organization to administer Section 8 vouchers—does not offer them.

Help with housing

In 2012, the city created a board now known as the Social Services and Housing Board. The board allocates funds from the Community Development Block Grant program—a HUD program—for city initiatives to help lower-income households.

The board is also in charge of the city’s Targeted Down Payment Assistance program. The program helps school district and city employees—including first responders—pay for the down payment and closing costs of a house in Frisco.

Assistant City Manager Nell Lange said the city recently increased the program’s forgivable loan amount from $5,000 to $10,000 because of the rising housing costs in the city.

Lange said there have been suggestions to open up the program to more than just city and FISD employees, but no formal decision has been made yet.

The Frisco Housing Authority is regulated by HUD and offers 20 low-rent housing units. The waiting list for those units is full, and no applications are being accepted at this time.

Tax credit housing units are managed by private developers. Depending on how many units are available and the rent relief offered to tenants, developers can get a certain tax break from the state. Rent relief is offered to renters who earn a certain percentage less than the median income of the area. For instance, renters who earn 60 percent or less of the area’s median income—which is calculated by HUD—could qualify for tax credit housing.

For an individual to qualify for a tax credit unit at 60 percent of the area median income, he or she would need to make $30,840 or less a year. That salary threshold increases with the number of people in the household. According to the average salaries in Texas, some restaurant workers, including servers, could qualify for tax credit housing in Frisco, while others—such as managers and cooks—may earn too much money to qualify.

Search for solutions

Frisco employers aim to attract employees living in other cities through benefits and competitive salaries.

FISD can recruit for some positions, even if employees live outside of the district, by offering higher salaries, sometimes by as little as 20 cents more per hour, said Doug Zambiasi, deputy superintendent for support services.

“It can be a challenge for the district to fill positions in support areas such as child nutrition, transportation and custodial services, and FISD recruits for many of these positions year-round,” he said. “In addition to pay, the district highlights benefits such as the opportunity to have weekends off, as well as time off while children are out of school.”

Brian Livingston—who owns eight restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including Texadelphia in Frisco—said his Frisco restaurants are some of the toughest to staff. To entice applicants, Livingston said he offers benefits, such as health insurance for full-time employees and flexible scheduling.

Still, he said transportation costs to Texadelphia can be a deterrent, especially since the restaurant is located right off of the Dallas North Tollway.

“You take gas and tolls into account, and [a paycheck]can get eaten up pretty quick,” he said.

Frisco Diner owner Afrim Seferi said his restaurant’s success has allowed him to pay well. And since the diner is not open in the evenings, most employees can leave the restaurant by midafternoon. Seferi said these perks have worked for him so far.

He said he would like to open a second location, but he is hesitant because he is having trouble finding a couple more employees for his first location.

“Because of the growth of the business, I need a few more people,” Seferi said. “We can maintain like this, but I like to have a little extra, and I’m finding it a little more difficult as of right now to get that extra help.”

Other options the city has explored include more transit alternatives for those who commute into the city. A commuter rail line is in the city’s long-term plans, but no immediate plans for public or commuter transit are on the city’s radar at this time, Cheney said.

Cheney said the city will continue to work with businesses to explore viable solutions for their hiring struggles.

“No community can be all things to all people,” he said. “If you try to be all things to all people, you’ll fail. The standard of living here is very high … We’re focused on maintaining that quality of life here in Frisco; that’s what our residents want and expect of us. With a focus like that, there are ramifications of those types of things.”


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COMMENT
  1. Jeff Gingerich

    Lindsey,
    Thank you for the well-written, informative article. I find it very concerning that our mayor references our so-called “high standard of living” in a piece outlining the inability of the lower wage workers in our community to find suitable housing in Frisco. Our standards should entail kindness, generosity, inclusion and compassion. Providing housing options to those who work and, in many instances, serve the residents of the community isn’t being “all things to all people”. It is simply being decent.

  2. Bonnie Marshall

    Thank you Jeff Gingerich. It was difficult to read the Mayor’s comments. The tone and mentality of a community trickles down from it’s leadership.

    Instead of having an attitude of gratefulness it seemed as if the Mayor was looking down on those who work hard and often harder just to earn a living. It’s interesting because this attitude feels like “We want you to come to Frisco and serve us by filling our low wage jobs and then go back to where you came from, because that’s what our citizens want you to do”. In other words, we don’t want you to live in Frisco, because we don’t value you in that way, and you’re not on our level”. So the City isn’t interested in developing any initiatives that might increase or make affordable housing available to lower wage workers.

    I was shocked that the Mayor wasn’t laying out his desire and plans in his interview for the city to “Work with existing and new Apartment Communities and Developers” to discuss solutions, and to gain commitments from them to make at least a few units available at affordable rental rates.

    The NTAA operates a large facility here in the City of Frisco. Given this clear and obvious problem with the high Toll fees deterring many potential employees from driving to Frisco to work why isn’t the Mayor working with NTTA and the business community to develop a plan to address the issue?

    The Mayor might boast a “High Standard of Living” in Frisco, but those of us who have been living here for years have watched the rental rates and taxes go up while the services have diminished and our
    so-called “Standard of Living” continues to go down hill.

    Our lifestyles in Frico have been compromised to the point of frustration, disappointment, and shock! We live in a community where any expectation of good and timely “Service” can no longer be anticipated. We are simply paying to be housed here. We have dynamic police and fire departments and they insure that we feel a sense of safety. But, lately the crime that has been taking place in other cities in Texas and across this nation are being seen here in Frisco as well. It would be interesting to hear the Mayor’s take on the increased crime rate in Frisco and if he feels that might be compromising our high standard of living?

    What good does it do to have upscale restaurants, entertainment venues, department stores, luxury car dealerships, etc., if you can’t get quality service when you patronize them? Regardless of WHERE one goes in Frisco you will wait, and wait, and wait for service. If you’re in a restaurant the quality of food is often sub-standard, or served cold because it’s been waiting on someone to deliver it to your table.

    The answer is always the same. “Sorry, were short of staff”.

    The lines are most often long in the banks and grocery stores throughout Frisco and again…comes the apologies and the explanation that they’re short of staff.

    The Mayor may be on “Cloud 9”, but the citizens who live here and who pay the high rent, mortgages, and property taxes would like to see the businesses who need workers, and the hard-working people who want to live and work in Frisco find affordable housing. The mayor might desire a city that lacks diversity and that doesn’t reflect the whole of society and that doesn’t wish to “Be all things to all people”, but it seems that this city needs a mayor who is willing to insure that the City meet the needs of All of the people who live here and who “Work” here!!

    I believe that it’s possible for the city to continue to prosper in the current scenario. What is the Mayor going to do when more restaurants and business begin failing and closing, 40% of “cost-burdened citizens start moving away from Frisco, and people stop moving to the city because of the lack of affordable housing?

    If elementary school enrollment continues to decline the junior high and high school enrollments will eventually decline wouldn’t it? Could we become a city of adults only? This might not appear to be a crises to the Mayor, but and I might be overreacting.

    We live in a city not just in our homes. That seems basic and fundamental to any community regardless of the so-called “Standard of Living”.

    “A Mentality That Lacks Inclusion is an Explicit Decision to Exclude” in my opinion. The Mayor appears to come from a very privileged background, and that might explain why he seems to be out of touch.

    The article is on point. There are many citizens in Frisco who have lived here for years and are struggling to afford the skyrocketing rents, mortgages, and property taxes. My neighbors and I talk about it often. It doesn’t seem possible that current housing crises can be sustained without derailing the continued growth, development, and the economic forecast for the City of Frisco.

    It will be interesting to see how and where the Mayor will lead us given his lack of concern and his belief that Frisco can’t be “All things to all people”. I can’t imagine a “Mayor” of any city making such a statement!!! It breaks my heart.

    Thank you Lindsey Juarez for such an enlightening article!

Lindsey Juarez
Lindsey has been involved in newspapers in some form since high school. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2014 with a degree in Journalism. While attending UTA, she worked for The Shorthorn, the university's award-winning student newspaper. She was hired as Community Impact Newspaper's first Frisco reporter in 2014. Less than a year later, she took over as the editor of the Frisco edition. Since then, she has covered a variety of topics and issues important to the community, including the city's affordable housing shortage, the state's controversial A-F school accountability system and the city's "Bury the Lines" efforts.
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