Housing

Affordable Housing Crisis Takes Center Stage Before Texas Senate Committee

The Texas Senate heard from Texans for Reasonable Solutions about the continuing housing crisis.
The Texas Senate heard from Texans for Reasonable Solutions about the continuing housing crisis. Photo by Pete Alexopoulos on Unsplash
At least one advocate for affordable housing in Texas was feeling optimistic that the Legislature will take steps to help ease the state's shortage of affordable housing. The optimism came on the heels of a hearing this week by the Texas Senate Committee on Local Government.

“After we walked out of that meeting, we feel that our chance of passing pro-housing, pro-growth bills, pro-affordability bills, have skyrocketed,” Nicole Nabulsi Nosek told the Observer by phone. “We were all over the moon. We did not expect it to go that well.”

Nosek is board chair of Texans for Reasonable Solutions, which was among a group of nonprofits and advocacy organizations offering testimony to the committee. Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the committee chairman, wrote on social media that he expects the Legislature to act on housing when it convenes in January.

"Much testimony about problems in Austin housing plus issues of fairness and transparency across the State," Bettencourt wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. Texans should expect "bills to be filed" in the Legislature, he said.

In recent months, many Texans have struggled with rising rent costs, which those in the investment property industry say are due in large part to growing property taxes and the swelling costs of building and maintaining those properties.

Texans for Reasonable Solutions
 is a nonprofit organization focused on finding solutions to the state's housing shortage. The group advocates for removing barriers to housing development, finding ways to better use existing funding for housing and legislation that could help lower housing costs in Texas.

Nosek said that the organization is prioritizing three main legislative solutions: updating outdated laws, incentivizing approval of new housing along with population growth and removing time-consuming delays.

Some of the outdated laws, she said, have been on the books for decades and might no longer be applicable, if not harmful, to housing options in Texas.

“Dallas and Austin look vastly different than they did in the 1980s, and we’re still using those same laws,” Nosek explained, adding that those cities need to "revisit" outdated laws "within a reasonable timeframe."

The way Nosek sees it, incentives are key to ensuring that housing permits stay ahead of potential population growth in the future. As an example, she points to Utah, where the state estimates "how many people are going to come in the coming years, and then they make sure that housing production is being approved on par with growth."

Still, Nosek said, one of the main barriers to having enough housing is time delays, such as waiting months for inspectors or permits, which can add 4–5% to the final costs of rent or housing.

According to her estimates, a two-month time reduction can mean a savings of $4,000 per unit for a 135-unit apartment complex.

As complex as the housing crisis in Texas is, Nosek believes focusing on the kind of solutions her group proposes will help ease the burden on renters and potential buyers. Increasing the housing stock, she said, will also help bring down prices.

“The choice is simple,” said Nosek. “If legislators are pro-Texas miracle, pro-Texas worker and pro-Texas middle class, they will prioritize building more homes to cater to our state’s economic growth during the legislative session.”
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Kate Pezzulli, an editorial fellow for the Observer, is a graduate student at the Mayborn School of Journalism at UNT. Besides storytelling, she likes sailing, working on Jeeps, camping, potting and baking. Voted No. 1 friend in an apocalypse.
Contact: Kate Pezzulli