I blogged last week about the need for housing programs to recognize the housing needs of families well below 30 percent of the area median income and suggested a new category of housing need called “below poverty income.” In response I received a question this morning that I thought deserved to be answered here. The question is…
Please provdie a list of what a county or city government can do to enhance rental units that serve the 30% and below families? Are there good examples of local governments serving this population?
I have to admit that my view of housing programs is somewhat parochial, being very Austin and Texas centric. Yet, even within such a limited limited geographical scope there are some really good programs to mention.
The major housing resources for families living near the poverty level are, of course public housing and Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. I can’t think of any public housing authority in Texas that could not use some financial help for cities and counties to maintain, preserve or improve their aging stock of public housing. Many PHAs are under great pressure to demolish public housing units that are obsolete or that the PHA can no longer afford to maintain. I have always thought it tragic and strange that cities and counties do so little to support their public housing authorities. Yet there are exceptions. In a handful of cases local governments have provided their public housing authorities critical funding to use in conjunction with Hope VI public housing revitalization projects.
Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers are funded by HUD. The problem many extremely low-income families who get a Section 8 voucher face is finding a decent apartment in a quality neighborhood they can rent using the voucher. The City of Dallas funds a very useful and innovative program called the Inclusive Communities Project (although they only fund it because of a federal court order). The program helps families who receive Section 8 vouchers to find apartments in desegregated communities near good schools, jobs and community services. The result is an immense improvement in the quality of life for these extremely low income families. There should be similar programs in every Texas city.
The State of Texas and several Texas cities provide direct rental assistance to extremely low income families in the form of tenant-based rental assistance. These programs operate very similar to Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and are often contracted for administration to local public housing authorities. In the case of the State’s tenant-based rental assistance program, the beneficiaries are extremely low income people who are moving out of state institutions into private housing. A number of Texas cities provide tenant-based rental assistance to individuals and families transitioning from homeless shelters into permanent housing.
In most cases the beneficiaries of funding made available to homeless programs and transitional housing programs have extremely low incomes. Single Room Occupancy (SRO) housing has recently received significant funding from city governments in Dallas, Houston and Austin. This housing provides an alternative to homelessness to single individuals with extremely low incomes. Community-based transitional housing for people leaving homeless shelters, such as that created with funding from the City of Austin through the Blackland Transitional Housing Program is one example.
Too little attention has been paid by cities and counties to funding traditional rental housing for extremely low income households but, nevertheless, there are examples. Most recently the City of Austin used local bond funds to finance the acquisition of land for multifamily rental development being undertaken by private developers. In exchange for the city funding, the city received a share of the development and a portion of the apartments were dedicated to housing families with incomes below 30% of the median. Funds have also been used to provide additional equity to developers of low income housing tax credit developments in which a small number of the apartments have been set aside for extremely low income households.
Cities and counties sometimes fund residential architectural barrier removal programs that are available to both renters and homeowners. Most of these households are elderly or disabled. The great majority have extremely low incomes and are able to remain in their existing affordable housing only because of the physical modifications funded by the program, such as ramps and widened doorways.
Single-family owner occupied housing rehabilitation programs, often referred to as “standard rehabilitation,” are generally targeted at the homes of persons with disabilities and the elderly. A great number of these families have extremely low income. These programs allow people to receive essential repairs to their homes to prevent them from being displaced into institutionalized housing such as nursing homes and state-funded institutions.
In Texas, state government even provides a way for extremely low income households to become homeowners. The vehicle is a “self-help housing” program called the Bootstrap Owner Builder Housing Program. Through this program low income households, working through a nonprofit organization, work together in teams of families to build their own homes utilizing a loan for materials that is funded by the government and provided interest-free. Homeownership programs operated by Habitat for Humanity also often serve extremely low income households.
These are just a handful of examples of government funded efforts within Texas that provide housing assistance to families with incomes below 30% of the area median. They are proof that this most needy population can be effectively assisted if the will to do so is there on the part of city, county and state government officials.