Unlike most states, Texas essentially gives state legislators veto power over affordable housing in their districts. Now that law is being used to derail low-income senior housing.
Long before Joan Hawn moved to Oak Bluff Village in Columbus, a Colorado River town about halfway between Houston and Austin, she knew it was the place for her when she got older. Now, at 72, she doesn’t know where else she could live.
Her apartment at the independent-living facility is adapted for the scooter that she needs as a result of childhood polio. And rents at other apartments in Columbus “are outrageous,” Hawn said.
But the almost 30-year-old complex is showing its own age. The door at the community center won’t open or close properly. The grass in the once-beautiful lawn is gone because of a broken sprinkler system. Problems with the plumbing and air conditioning systems are becoming more frequent.
In January, National Church Residences (NCR), the Ohio-based nonprofit that owns Oak Bluff and other homes for low-income seniors around the country, was preparing to apply for a grant through a federal program that uses tax credits to encourage development of affordable housing. The $2 million grant, which had enthusiastic support from city and county officials, would have paid for critical repairs and update accessibility at the complex, which houses “some of the most vulnerable and economically challenged … seniors in the community,” said Tracey Fine, a senior project leader for NCR.
The group had already filed a pre-application with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA). “We had a very high likelihood of getting the award,” she said.
But that was before NCR ran afoul of state Representative Leighton Schubert.
A 2001 state law gives individual legislators a virtual veto over low-income housing. It has essentially redlined entire legislative districts as off-limits to poor families, mostly black and brown folks, and drawn the scrutiny of federal courts and housing officials. And now that veto is also being applied to proposals for senior housing. In recent months, Republican legislators have derailed two NCR proposals in Texas. Oak Bluff was the first. The second was a new senior development in suburban San Antonio.