Houston’s Affordable Housing Problem Is Going To Intensify

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The need for affordable housing in Houston is about to become more acute, as hundreds of thousands of people across the state find themselves out of work as a result of the economic disruption caused by the coronavirus. 

Even before the pandemic, Houston ranked fifth in the nation and first in Texas for having the most severe affordable housing shortage. The city has 19 affordable housing units for every 100 households in need, or about an 80% deficit, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. 

“Houston was facing an affordable housing crisis well before the pandemic,” Houston Housing Authority interim President and CEO Mark Thiele told Bisnow.

Demand for affordable housing in Houston is so great that HHA’s public housing and Housing Choice Voucher Program waitlists have been closed for several years, and HHA isn’t take any more applications at this time. Thiele noted that over 25,000 people are on the HCVP waitlist, and over 93,000 people are on the public housing waitlist as of the most recent HHA board meeting on April 21. Those numbers existed prior to the pandemic, and are only expected to rise.  “We saw the same trend during Harvey when thousands applied for public housing,” Thiele added. 

More than 280,000 Texans filed for unemployment last week alone, bringing the total to 1.3 million in roughly the last month. Not all of those losses will be direct drivers of affordable housing demand. 

New Hope Housing President and CEO Joy Horak-Brown said the nonprofit organization’s eight affordable housing complexes in Houston are constantly at full occupancy, and that it is rare to even have an open waitlist.

“The minute we open a waitlist, it fills up,” she said.

New Hope Housing caters to many people at the lowest end of the economic spectrum in Houston. The organization leads the state in the number of single room occupancy housing units it offers, which are aimed at individuals who live alone, and have a very modest income. Horak-Brown said a typical income for a person living in an SRO unit is about $10K a year. 

New Hope Housing also offers apartments with multiple bedrooms to families with children earning joint incomes totaling under $45K a year. And times are tough at affordable housing properties right now, as vulnerable residents worry about making rent and getting the federal assistance they depend on. 

ITEX Group is a development and investment company based in Houston. It operates 56 multifamily properties across Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Colorado, totaling 8,000 units. Of those, about 70% are affordable workforce housing, and receive some kind of subsidy or tax credit from the federal government. ITEX Group President Chris Akbari told Bisnow the company has four affordable housing complexes in Houston. One is for seniors, while the others are for families.

“For April, the majority of our residents, the vast majority, paid their rents,” Akbari said. 

The company recorded about a 95% rent collection rate for April, on par with usual collection rates for the tenant portion of rent. But as May approaches, and the unemployment situation continues to worsen, there are concerns that more residents could struggle to pay rent. Many residents have approached ITEX to assist for a recertification of their eligibility for assistance. Akbari said a large portion staff working at a property with some kind of subsidy or housing vouchers have been spending copious amounts of time recertifying people so they can receive additional assistance from the voucher program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “It’s been a very difficult six weeks for our staff, educating and helping people to get assistance,” Akbari said. The HHA has secured 1,659 affordable housing units over the last three years. Out of those units, 1,256 have been completed since 2018, and the remaining are under construction and are expected to begin leasing within the next 24 months. The association has an additional 2,858 affordable housing units in the pipeline, and is adding more each month.

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