it tougher to develop affordable housing

By Lydia DePillis, Houston Chronicle

February 19, 2017

Two bills filed this month in the state Legislature would make it harder to develop affordable housing in Texas by imposing onerous new requirements on the projects and giving neighbors broad powers to oppose them.

Although the chances of passage are unclear, the bills would be consistent with many other restrictions the Legislature has placed on affordable housing development. Meanwhile, helping low-income people find housing is a rising concern for Texas cities, as a flood of new residents has boosted the cost of both rental and for-sale units.

The first bill comes from first-term Republican state Rep. Valoree Swanson, whose district in northern Harris County, between Tomball and The Woodlands, has put up substantial resistance to affordable housing development. In her campaign, Swanson promised to “stop low-income government housing.”

The bill amends the law regarding applications for low-income housing tax credits – the main way the federal government subsidizes affordable housing – to include a requirement that the developer “conspicuously identify the development as ‘low-income government-subsidized housing'” to local officials and neighborhood groups.

The bill also requires developers to notify neighborhood groups within 5 miles of the proposed project 90 days before submitting the application and directs the government to consider negative opinions of those groups when evaluating proposals. Finally, it requires an “independent study of the development’s anticipated effects on local schools, area crime rates, infrastructure, governmental expenditures, population density, area property values, and the revenue of local, state, and federal governmental entities.”

Higher-income communities often argue that subsidized housing will increase crime and lower property values, although studies have shown that new, well-maintained low-income housing communities do not hurt property values and can lower crime rates.

Rebecca Elliott contributed to this report.