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State Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Affordable Housing Strategies

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
East Austin is home to one of four homestead preservation districts in Austin.

State lawmakers are set to hear testimony this morning on how to address affordable housing needs throughout Texas.

The House Committee on Urban Affairs will hear from experts on the state of the affordable housing market – which strategies are working, and where we need improvement. State Representative Carol Alvarado, a democrat from the Houston area, chairs the committee.

“We don’t have the fix for it yet, but we are doing our research and taking comments, and seeing how we can best address it in the legislature,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado said they’ll look at how changing demographic trends affect the need for affordable housing, and more specifically, senior housing. A recent report by the state demographer shows that the large Baby Boomer population in Texas is causing the state to age at a rapid rate. That trend is likely to affect policy down the road, as cities work to address housing needs.

“We just don’t have enough housing for seniors, whether it’s assisted living or otherwise,” Alvarado said.

Lawmakers are also exploring strategies to keep lower-income people from being priced out of their neighborhoods. In Austin, city officials have worked to provide some stability in affordable housing using what’s called homestead preservation districts. The tool created by state law allows cities to reinvest property taxes in designated low-income areas to fund affordable housing development. Tim Thetford is a consultant with the Texas Association of Community Development Corporations. He’s also a former Chief of Staff for State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, who helped craft the homestead preservation law.

“It’s devised to help families, neighborhoods, households that are being impacted by rising costs by simple virtue of the fact that they’re proximate to downtown or an area that’s rapidly increasing in value,” Thetford said.  

Thetford said, when they started working on the legislation in 2003, they envisioned creating a single homestead preservation district in Austin. Today, the city has four, and more are under consideration.

“It’s an expanding notion in some areas of public policy, and yet it’s something that takes a long time to have a meaningful value,” he said.

In the long run, the goal of the policy is to increase homeownership. Thetford thinks the tool could be useful to other Texas cities looking to increase their affordable housing stock. He’ll be testifying at the hearing, which begins at 10 a.m. at Dallas City Hall. 

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