Problems Plague Affordable Housing Agency

Problems Plague Affordable Housing Agency
Photo by Kostiantyn Li / Unsplash

Republican leaders in the state, especially Governor Abbott, love touting the economic successes of Texas. Despite drastic positions like banning abortion, enacting permitless carry, and implementing a host of other ‘cultural’ issues like banning Diversity and Inclusion programs on state campuses, the people are flocking to Texas.

But moving here and living here are two entirely different things. By several metrics, Texas is one of the worst states for affordable housing. Many recent studies have confirmed the unstable market, with a major shortage of short-term and long-term rental properties. The picture is even worse for lower-income Texans. And a report released earlier this year showed that over 750,000 older Texans struggle with housing instability.

At the beginning of this year, House Bill 1058 went into effect. It makes it possible for certain new developments geared toward low-income Texans to become eligible for tax credits. And cities like Austin have been at the forefront of making more housing units available to ease the overall housing market.

Still, many proponents of affordable housing say more needs to be done. Some of their frustration stems from the very agency tasked with expanding affordable housing in Texas. 

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), was created in September 1991, and is the state agency responsible for “financing and compliance monitoring of most of the affordable housing developed in Texas.” According to their website, this is the state department which oversees both state and federal funding to prevent homelessness. They work with a myriad of organizations on this issue, ranging from cities to nonprofits to private developers and other public housing advocates.

As Governor, Abbott has the sole authority to appoint the Board members who oversee the TDHCA. There are currently six board members, including former Republican congressman Kenny Marchant who is the Vice Chair. The Chair of the Board is Leo Vasquez, who was first appointed to the board in 2017 and named Chair in 2020. Earlier this year, Abbott re-appointed Vasquez to the Board for a term expiring in 2029.

Last year the TDHCA reported that the agency helped over six million Texans during the COVID-19 pandemic. But for many Texans, working with TDHCA was anything but smooth. Texas Rent Relief, which was launched in February 2021, was bogged down with several issues. The Texas House Urban Affairs Committee released a damning report in April 2021 showing only 250 families had received help from an applicant pool of 72,000. The head of the TDHCA Bobby Wilkinson testified that the problems stemmed from the consultancy firm the agency contracted to run the federal money for the program. 

In March 2023, Texas Rent Relief announced that it would allow new applicants to apply for the program for two weeks to take advantage of $96 million left in funds. The portal was inundated with a demand that forced Texas Rent Relief to crash. They later announced they were no longer taking on new applications.

Even Texans that believed they were receiving rent relief faced eviction. The Texas Tribune profiled the Scott family in Katy, who were approved for rent relief but a check was sent to the wrong address. Eventually, Scott’s landlord did receive a payment, but evicted the family anyway. The Tribune spoke to several more Texas families with similar situations. The Tribune also discovered that TDHCA was not keeping track of how many landlords receive payment and still evict tenants.

In April, a family in Rosenberg reached out to a local television affiliate to chronicle their experience working with the TDHCA, which provided them contradictory answers as they faced an eviction. The Perez family was only spared an eviction thanks to ABC 13.

TDHCA lists that its mission is to administer its programs “efficiently, transparently, and lawfully.” For many Texans, that mission has fallen quite short.