Texas Housers tells state lawmakers that neighborhoods across the state must meet basic standards that keep Texans safe

Texas Housers urged state lawmakers this afternoon to ensure that all neighborhoods where Texans make their homes meet the basic needs for a decent quality of life: clean drinking water and air, proper drainage infrastructure, and essential lighting and sidewalks.

Texas Housers community planner and analyst Amelia Adams and Rio Grande Valley co-director Josué Ramirez testified at today’s Texas Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee hearing about affordable housing in Pharr, Texas.

Specifically, Ramirez and Adams voiced strong support for enacting regulations that impose standards on developers to keep them from building developments that do not provide Texans with decent neighborhoods. This unfettered approach to development is what caused the proliferation of colonias across the state — isolated informal rural settlements without connections to city services or infrastructure.

“While it is important to minimize unnecessary regulation,” Adams said, “It is also important to recognize that the historically unregulated approach to development in low-income communities in South Texas has produced disastrous results. This goes for both low-income families who were consigned to live in dangerous and substandard conditions and for the region as a whole which is saddled with the economic and social consequences of sprawling substandard neighborhoods.”

While many partners of Texas Housers also testified at the hearing speaking in favor of regulating housing developments to prevent safety and health issues (such as those in many colonias), other panelists throughout the morning spoke about the importance of flexibility for developers to increase the affordable housing stock.

“A lot of folks here have been talking about how deregulation will increase housing affordability,” Ramirez said. “What we’ve seen is that that hasn’t been the case in the Rio Grande Valley. While regulations do lead to higher costs for homes, we know that residents end up paying these costs in the long run when that kind of security of those regulations are not in place. We see it in the flooding of the homes and not having access to services that you’d consider basic.”

Texas Housers made the following recommendations to the Committee:

  1. Enact Senator Lucio’s disaster recovery advance planning program (SB 1673)
  2. Establish and enforce strong subdivision standards for new developments that provide for adequate flood protection, streetlights, parks and full levels of quality public services.
  3. Grant urbanized counties like Hidalgo and Cameron zoning, full building code and land-use authority.
  4. Fund a small subdivision and infill urban Mi Casita housing program in high-opportunity neighborhoods based on the program of the Brownsville CDC.
  5. Allocate state funds for public safety needs of border colonias including pubic lighting, fire, police and EMS substations and sidewalks to school.
  6. Prepare county-wide environmental risk assessments and develop environmental hazard mitigation plans for low-income border neighborhoods.
  7. Assess and estimate public infrastructure needs of low-income colonias in the Rio Grande Valley (drainage, streetlights, sidewalks, streets, parks, etc.).
  8. Conduct a county and local jurisdictional review of development plans, policies and practices to promote residential integration and provide low-income people access to higher opportunity areas in incorporated cities.
  9. Document the per capita under-allocation of federal housing funds to border counties and cities relative to the rest of the country and advocate for a fair share of housing subsidy funds.
  10. With the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Public Health and Medical School, develop a public health indicators and risk assessment project in colonias and low-income neighborhoods. Study and test for lead and other contaminates in water supplies, asthma, frequencies of mosquito-borne pathogens (ZIKA, Dengue Fever, West Nile, etc.) and general health issues. Identify funding for education and remediation strategies designed to be effective in colonias and impoverished urban neighborhoods.
  11. Adopt property tax exemptions or temporary abatements targeting Extremely Low-Income (< 30 percent of Area Median Family Income (AMFI)) and Very Low-Income ≥30 percent and < 50% AMFI) homeowners to enhance their ability to afford housing in cities.
  12. Amend the Valley regional drainage plan to include the TWDB Hidalgo County colonia drainage needs in the plan and provide state funding.
  13. For all new subdivisions, adopt the county standard: a 25-year internal drainage standard and a 100-year and runoff detention for a 100-year storm event so that peak discharges are no more than the pre-development peak flows for the corresponding storms.

Watch the public hearing here. 

You can read Amelia Adams’ testimony below.

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