Backed by concerted opposition from elected officials and community members, low-income housing projects continue to be rejected despite up to 21% of residents in the zip codes that comprise Spring and Klein falling below the poverty line, or the minimum income level needed based on factors such as family size and income, according to U.S. Census Bureau 2017 data.
In January, seven applications were submitted to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs’ competitive tax credit program for sites in the Spring and Klein area, including locations on FM 2920, Hwy. 249, and Louetta and Spring Cypress roads. The program allocates federal income tax credit to developers to encourage the construction of affordable multifamily housing.
All of the applicants failed to qualify for housing tax credits, partly as a result of opposition by local state representatives Sam Harless, R-Spring; Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress; and Valoree Swanson, R-Spring—who each wrote letters of opposition to one or more of the proposals. As of mid-April, there are no low-income housing projects in application or in development in Spring and Klein.
“I have received numerous calls regarding additional affordable housing in North Harris County, with almost all opposed,” Harless said. “I think the community has spoken, and it’s my responsibility to represent that position.”
Meanwhile, two opposing bills have been proposed this session that could give state representatives more or less power to approve or deny these projects, which generally serve households making 60% of the area’s median income.
To qualify for a tax credit property in Spring, the household income for a family of four must be at or below $44,944, TDHCA Director of Multifamily Financing Marni Holloway said. In Spring and Klein, 32.2% of households made less than $50,000 in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development lists 11 tax credit properties in the nine zip codes that comprise Spring and Klein. While supporters of tax credit properties say more affordable living options are needed, community leaders say there are enough low-income apartments, along with apartments that accept Section 8 housing vouchers, in Spring and Klein. Section 8 vouchers provide financial assistance for housing.
“We have an abundance of apartment complexes throughout our area, and virtually every apartment complex is going to have a number of units that will accept Section 8,” said former state representative Debbie Riddle, R-Spring, who campaigned against low-income housing during her time in office from 2012-2017.
But supporters of such properties argue the existing amount of affordable housing does not begin to fill the population’s needs.
“There’s a huge need in the Greater Houston area; there’s a huge need statewide,” Holloway said.
Nearly 13% of households within Spring and Klein earned less than $24,999 per year in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, the average rental price for all units in the area, according to ApartmentData.com, was $1,007 per month in 2018—or more than $12,000 a year, which is nearly half the annual income of $24,999.
Further, 32% of households with single mothers in zip code 77090, for example, fell below the poverty level in 2017, according to the census.
“A single mother with two kids, even with a decent job, cannot afford market rent,” Holloway said.
Concerns surrounding low-income housing projects include placing greater strain on emergency services districts and school districts as well as increasing crime rates.
“It puts an extra strain on our emergency services because [residents of tax credit properties]tend to require more social services,” Riddle said. “It also puts a strain on the school district because there is not the tax base there to take care of the vast amount of children that come into that area.”
ESD 29 President Scott Morgan said low income apartments can lead to more emergency service responses, but this is mostly because of the concentration of residents.
“[The responses can be more difficult] when you are in an apartment complex, whether it’s private developers or government, just because of the density of the unit,” Morgan said.
Meanwhile, Deputy James Kelly of Harris County Sheriff’s Office Homeless Outreach Team said he believes perceived correlations between increased crime and tax credit properties are simply unfounded.
“Crime is everywhere,” Kelly said. “I hear … people say, ‘Oh these low-income apartments are coming up here, here comes crime.’ I think it’s just something that is said.”
TDHCA monitors tax credit properties every three years for compliance with property standards, Holloway said, and properties run background and criminal checks on tenants.
“In many cases, … community opposition comes from not knowing or not understanding what tax credit properties are and what they look like,” she said. “I think that people hear ‘affordable housing’ and they think … of horrible, dangerous places.”
Still, elected officials say they are heeding their constituents’ wishes. In an online survey that was emailed and posted on Facebook by Harless in March, 85% of emailed survey takers said they are against affordable housing projects, while 94% of survey takers by Facebook were opposed.
Harless said he opposed an application for a tax credit property, McKinley Park Apartments, earlier this year due to community feedback as well as its location in a flood zone.
Swanson said she has also listened to her constituents.
“Due to overwhelming community opposition, I have written negative letters, stopping all … projects proposed in District 150 since taking office,” she said.
Meanwhile, Riddle said she felt spurred to act after learning of the low-income housing applications sent to TDHCA earlier this year. On Feb. 25, Riddle hosted a public meeting at the Shirley Acres subdivision to raise awareness of the proposed projects, which more than 300 people attended.
Riddle formed the North Harris County Citizens Coalition, an organization that sends email updates of community issues, from flooding to low-income housing projects, Riddle said.
TDHCA scores applications for Housing Tax Credits using a point system, but proposed legislation may change how these applications are scored.
House Bill 4370, for instance, would remove letters written by state representatives as criteria for scoring applications, while HB 59—filed by Swanson—would give greater consideration to state representatives’ inputs.
A letter from a state representative either adds or subtracts eight points, and developers compete against other developers for the most points.
“Very rarely can a developer overcome that eight negative points. They usually win by half a point, one point or two points,” Riddle said.
HB 59 would increase the point value of letters by state representatives from eight to 12 points.
“My bill assigns even more weight to state representatives when these developments are proposed in unincorporated areas … [where]there are no city council members to provide input and represent local residents,” Swanson said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, filed HB 4370 in March, which would remove state representatives’ input from the process altogether. Johnson said the bill would eliminate elected officials from abusing their power, but local leaders voiced concern.
“If they take away the voice of the state representative, then we have no voice,” Riddle said. “I consider that taxation without representation.”
As of press time, the bills were still pending in committee.