HomeNewsCommissioners Approve Resolution for Regional Housing Authority

Commissioners Approve Resolution for Regional Housing Authority

For the third time April 17, Williamson County Commissioners Court conducted a public hearing to discuss the possibility and need to participate in the Texas Housing Foundation, a regional housing authority. Its mission, born out of Housing Authority Law 392 and due to a shortage, is to provide safe or sanitary housing in Williamson County to low-income persons at rents they can afford.

With Judge Gattis absent, commissioners voted unanimously to enter into an agreement to ensure the County will have a voice with regard to land use and development and will not be subject to eminent domain.

Commissioner 3 Valerie Covey explained, “The THF already has multiple developments in the county and is entitled to build where they find a need and the availability. Our agreement does not include eminent domain and this court does not support it. This decision just ensures that we have a seat at the table to look after the best interests of the County and its residents. ”

The commissioners also unanimously approved the appointment of Round Rock architect John Moman to the Board. Commissioner Cook praised the choice, “He has considerable experience with land acquisition and has seen success and pitfalls in the business. He understands the workings of regional government and is a visionary who will serve Williamson County with integrity.”

Speakers on both sides of the debate took the opportunity to address the court. Former Burnet County Judge Donna Klager argued for, by way of explanation that there is a high percentage of residents in Burnet Co. who can not afford to live where they work.

Klager highlighted her county’s efforts to provide free office space in those areas for local services to residents. “Not everyone has the ability to travel to Williamson County and Austin for things like the Salvation Army, Agency on Aging, veteran services, or special needs like Bluebonnet Trails. We are providing a one-stop shop for the community; not just housing but community resources that benefit everyone.”

Mark Mayfield, President of the THF, explained that 42 percent of the residents of Williamson County are rent-overburdened, which means they are paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income for rent. “Workforce housing is the number one issue across Texas. Builders can not keep up with the 40 people moving to Williamson County every day. People earning $14-17 an hour; how do they afford to pay for homes that are, on average…about $295,000? THF will meet that demand and operates completely independently; meeting the market rate for the working people in each community. The intent of this vote is to maintain accountability with a Williamson County representative on  that board.”

Affordable housing is designed to be budget neutral and the THF will not ask Williamson County for money. The are repaid for their development via tax breaks from the Federal government, which drives down the cost of building and increases equity in the property. This results in lower rent, which meets median income standards and provides the necessary housing.

Williamson County will join Burnet, Blanco, Llano and Bastrop Counties at the table but opinion was varied in citizen comments.

Several speakers addressed the concerns of eminent domain generally allowed and exercised by Housing Authorities. Commissioners are assured that the county will not be subject to it and  will be able to withdraw from the agreement at any time.

Some believe the problem with affordable housing is the government itself, through compliance regulations that drive up the cost for the builder, which is then transferred to the taxpayer through the Federal subsidies. Others were concerned that subsidized housing will be at taxpayer expense for people who live here but don’t work or shop here.

But THF builders are also required to meet the same government compliance as other developers. Commissioner Terry Cook added, “These developments do not look any different than market rate housing. They are not an eyesore, they are just less costly to live in due to the programs used to build them. I have seen the impact of affordable housing on people who no longer have to choose between rent and food. They have a unique sense of community, developers provide essential services like Internet and public activities for families and kids. They care about their neighbors.”

Commissioner Madsen summed up the point before the vote; “They can already do work in WilCo without our consent. With this agreement, the issue of eminent domain goes away and we will have eyes on the board to make sure we have a say.”

Visit http://www.txhf.org/ for more information about the THF.

Housing Authorities Law 392 Findings

(1) There is a shortage of safe or sanitary housing at rents that persons of low income can afford that forces persons of low income to live in unsanitary or unsafe housing and in overcrowded and congested housing;

(2)  These housing conditions are responsible for an increase in and spread of disease and crime, are a menace to the health, safety, morals, and welfare of the residents of the state, impair economic values, and necessitate excessive and disproportionate expenditures of public funds for crime prevention and punishment, public health and safety, fire and accident protection, and other public services and facilities;

(3) The unsafe and unsanitary housing cannot be cleared and the shortage of safe and sanitary housing for persons of low income cannot be relieved by private enterprise;

(4) The construction of housing projects for persons of low income would not be competitive with private enterprise;

(5) The clearance, replanning, and reconstruction of the areas in which unsanitary or unsafe housing exists and the providing of safe and sanitary housing for persons of low income are public uses and purposes and governmental functions of state concern for which public money may be spent and private property acquired;

(6) It is in the public interest that work on low income housing projects commence as soon as possible to relieve the unemployment emergency

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