Texas is known for its low cost of living; that’s why people and businesses are coming here in droves from other states. This is great news, but it’s also putting stress on our already eroding housing affordability. Good housing is about supplying a community’s citizens with the tools they need to do their work; it’s the building block upon which all work and pursuits in life are based. Unfortunately, today, we cannot honestly tell you that everyone in Bryan and College Station has the tools they need to prosper. We’ve been helping families since 1989 and, with the help of generous donors and the most giving community known as Aggieland, we’ve built almost 300 homes and keep pace with much larger Habitat for Humanity affiliates.
Having said this, we must admit that we can’t solve the problem of affordable housing with donations alone; it will require a concerted effort of government at all levels and non-profit and for-profit housing providers to effectively make this vital tool of housing available to our citizens. Government funding programs for affordable housing help, but there are other ways government can help to improve affordability for these hardworking families.
Land-use regulations, permitting costs, and mortgage lending compliance all serve as red tape, increase our administration costs, and reduce the number of people we can assist. If legislators attach more strings than dollars to a funding source for a project, there are too many people left needing help (so we’ll just have to keep asking for more money). Instead, we’re asking our legislators at all levels to consider how their legislation may impact the ability of people to build and buy (or rent) the kind of housing that suits their needs. (See this Foundation for Economic Education’s article about land-use.)
For World Habitat Day, we hosted a Candidates Build at a Habitat for Humanity home in College Station, Texas. This home is one of three built on land purchased with Community Development Block Grant funds administered by the City of College Station. Prior to our transaction for the land, it was zoned for two lots. The City gave us the flexibility to subdivide the land and create six lots. This is a great example of how we worked together to stretch the funds we received to serve six families instead of two. These families also benefit by being able to buy the amount of land they can afford, rather than stretching their budget to live in a great neighborhood. (See this Strong Town article titled “The 5 Immutable Laws of Affordable Housing“.)
At Habitat for Humanity, we want to ensure our homes remain affordable for low-income families, but we can’t guarantee homeowners will have reasonable property tax bills in the future. If we can’t come together to address rising property taxes, the home we visited this morning will no longer be affordable for Ms. Woodard. Rising property taxes can get to such a point that Ms. Woodard could face selling her home as the only option, even though there may be no other affordable homes available. This outcome would not be a success for us, for Ms. Woodard, or for our community. We can do better.
If your community elects to send you to Austin or Washington, DC, we ask that you prioritize housing affordability. Ask yourself, will this legislation or that initiative create an environment that helps people build and buy the kind of housing they need or is it just a band-aid for a much deeper problem? At Habitat, we’re working for a cure for unaffordable housing–and we’re asking that you join us in this work.