Texas legislature focuses on unmet rural housing needs

It is no secret that rural housing needs have received far less attention than urban housing needs in Texas. A host of new legislation being filed in the Texas Legislature this session seeks to change that.

As I discussed several weeks ago here, the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, the Association of Rural Communities in Texas and Motivation Education and Training, Inc., working closely with the Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade, sought to understand what initiatives could be undertaken through state housing programs to better meet rural housing needs.  The approach was to focus intensively on the housing needs in three rural counties as a way to get a handle on the problem statewide. Three counties in the Texas Panhandle were selected, centered around the community of Herford.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs commissioned a detailed market study that served as a beginning point for understanding the unmet affordable housing needs. The organizations involved worked with community groups and local officials to verify the findings of the market study and to gain a more in-depth understanding of the gaps in existing housing programs.

From this process a series of recommendations for changes in state housing programs emerged. Those recommendations are now being translated into legislation. Texas senators, led by the chairman of the Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade, longtime affordable housing proponent Texas Senator Eddie Lucio (D) – Brownsville, have begun rolling out a series of bills based on the Panhandle study area findings.

I will explore the details of these bills in later postings. For now, here is a list of the subject areas of the legislation.

  • Improvements to the state’s self-help housing programs to allow rural areas to better access services.
  • The establishment within the state housing agency of rural housing ombudsmen to rural communities to help those communities gain access to federal and state housing programs and to inform the state housing agency about how better to meet rural housing needs.
  • A pilot program to establish a regional community development corporation to provide the capacity to undertake housing programs across a rural region.
  • A pilot program to develop a new, “foreclosure resistant” mortgage lending product to get loans for home ownership flowing again to lower income borrowers, especially in small towns and rural commuities.
  • A change in the rules governing the state’s low income housing tax credit program to provide that apartment developments with fewer units not be at a disadvantage in the competition for tax credits. This is important to make housing funds available to smaller cities.
  • A rural land assemblage bill that would allow counties and cities to transfer tax delinquent property to entities that would redevelop the land with affordable housing.