Why Does Affordable Housing Matter in College Station?

The Center for Housing Policy recently released an eye-opening report indicating that about 10 million working households in the United States spent more than half their income on housing. This “severe housing cost burden” affects nearly 25 percent of all rental households. Although Texas enjoys relatively low housing costs, its working households experienced one of the nation’s most significant increases in this cost burden from 2008 to 2009.

In College Station, only about 35 percent of total households are estimated to be owner-occupied, which is significantly less than the 68 percent across the state. Obviously, this is due in part to our large student population, but it’s also related to local incomes and the availability of affordable housing.  Nearly 15 percent of area families live below the poverty line, and for these families, even houses that sell for $100,000 or less — which represent only 6 percent of sales in recent years — can be unattainable.

The 65 percent of College Station households that are renters face even more difficult challenges. A vast disparity exists between the incomes of renters and homeowners, with owners earning three times more household income.  According to estimates, 61 percent of renter-occupied housing units in College Station exceed the typical 30 percent cost burden of housing.  Though incomes and the local housing market continue to expand and grow, the cost of purchasing or renting a home remains either out-of-reach or a significant burden for many in our community.

Why does Affordability Matter?

Why does this matter in College Station?  What difference does the availability of affordable housing make?  Among the most important reasons are the impact on job creation and the city’s legal obligations.

In a recent survey by the Center for Housing Policy, more than two-thirds of companies that participated indicated that a lack of affordable housing negatively affected their ability to retain qualified employees.  In a survey of local agencies involved in providing non-housing community assistance, the lack of affordable housing outranked even wage and health insurance concerns.  While College Station’s opportunities and high quality of life continue to successfully attract professors, administrators and researchers, we also must attract and house support workers such as clerks, landscapers and construction laborers, just to name a few.  A failure to address affordable housing could place us at a considerable disadvantage when we compete for jobs with other communities.

Since, 1975, College Station has received more than $43 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address community and housing needs.  The city has used these funds to rehabilitate streets, waterlines and parks in distressed neighborhoods.  But by accepting these much-needed funds, the city also has obligated itself to addressing fair and affordable housing through housing assistance, rehabilitation and repair programs, and partnerships with local entities such as the Brazos Valley Community Action Agency.  A failure to meet these obligations places at risk the millions of federal dollars  we need to address infrastructure and service requirements.

Council Considers Housing Initiatives

The good news is that the city council consistently has demonstrated a strong commitment to affordable housing by keeping our property taxes among the lowest in the state, providing enough land that is zoned for both owner-occupied and rental housing, and by funding housing programs.

At its regular meeting on Thursday, the council will take action on some initiatives related to affordable housing.  The first will be an agreement with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity to provide part of the city’s federal housing funds to sponsor the construction of affordable homes for residents most in need.  The second initiative will be an endorsement of a project that, if approved by the state, will deliver affordable independent senior living in the heart of the city’s new Medical District.  The third involves adjusting guidelines for city programs that help homeowners keep their homes safe and well-maintained, and the development of a program to help rehabilitate properties rented by low-income families.

A Lasting Commitment

Combined with a nearly 40-year commitment to affordable housing, these actions demonstrate how seriously the city considers its legal obligations and the need to ensure that housing costs don’t limit local employers’ ability to retain jobs and attract new workers.  For more information about our housing programs, visit the Community Development web page.

Bob Cowell
Bob Cowell
Executive Director | Planning & Development Services
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