Coleman/Nancy Kinder Op-Ed: In historic 3rd Ward, a fight for affordable housing // Kinder Institute Op-Ed: Fed. housing program works; is underfunded

 

Below are two opinion pieces that were published in last Wednesday’s Houston Chronicle. The first is by Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) and President and CEO of the Kinder Foundation Nancy Kinder on affordable housing in Houston’s historic Third Ward. The second is by Kyle Shelton, deputy director at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, regarding the federal voucher program.

In the historic Third Ward, a fight for affordable housing [Opinion]

By Garnet Coleman and Nancy Kinder Nov. 27, 2019

Pamela Ramirez, 33, in her home in the Third Ward on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Photo: Marie D. De Jesús, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

When Pamela Ramirez relocated to Houston in 2014 to pursue her career in public service with Harris County, she purchased her first car and began looking for a place to rent. While on HAR.com searching for rental property, she found a listing for a single family home with a mortgage payment in her rental range. Ramirez took a deep breath and decided to explore.

The home builder, EPIC Homes, was building 10 homes in the heart of Houston’s Third Ward through an affordable housing initiative. Ramirez qualified and became the first person in her family to own a home, a point of pride for her parents who immigrated from the Dominican Republic to the US.

As Pamela and her neighbors watched their homes being built she developed lasting friendships in the community. Now, three years later, she looks back with deep gratitude for the affordable housing program that allowed her to purchase a newly constructed home in a neighborhood that she loves.

Unfortunately, there are far too few examples of success stories like Ramirez’s. The historic northern Third Ward needs 1,200 new units of affordable housing and more units of moderately priced housing over the next 10 years just to meet existing demand within the neighborhood, according to the Historic Third Ward Strategic Implementation Framework.

This will require strategic neighborhood planning; sustained collaboration among public, private and nonprofit organizations; and reliable local, state and federal funding along with private support. Local community organizations must also continue to represent Third Ward’s values and needs as they partner with outside organizations to bring much-needed resources to the community.

One big step in the right direction is the development of the Third Ward’s Emancipation Center, a 58,000-square foot facility expected to open next year. It will serve as an affordable housing “one-stop shop” where public, private and non-profit groups can work together to tackle the affordable housing challenge.

The center itself offers 20 affordable housing units as well as ground-floor retail, services and public art. It also epitomizes a collaborative approach to tackling big issues in the Third Ward.

The establishment of the Emancipation Center underscores a decades-long, visionary strategy led by the community and supported by our elected officials to mitigate the effects of unchecked gentrification in the Third Ward and other central city neighborhoods. It follows other work in the past quarter century by Project Row Houses, Greater Zion, Tenemos, Guiding Light and others to build three large multi-family housing projects with more than 400 units, 30 duplexes and almost 100 single family houses.

More recently, the Montrose Center broke ground on a 112-unit apartment complex and health facility on former Midtown land. PRH-Preservation is completing the restoration of 21 historic row houses as affordable rental housing, and Change Happens CDC is developing 74 units in partnership with NHP. Row House CDC is in pre-development for another dozen affordable rental units while other efforts are underway with other affordable-housing groups to develop hundreds more affordable units in the next few years.

All this activity convinces us that Houston’s Third Ward can be an inspiring national model for how community-driven, government-supported efforts can meet affordable-housing challenges while preserving historic communities in our central cities.

The Third Ward Redevelopment Council Plan laid the groundwork in 1995. The Midtown Redevelopment Authority then used its legislative mandate to facilitate affordable housing by acquiring 100 acres of land in the Greater Third Ward and adopting the Midtown Affordable Housing Plan prepared by the Center for Civic and Public Policy Improvement in 2017. More recently, a coalition of community stakeholders formed in 2015 developed additional affordable housing strategies for Third Ward, which formed the basis for the Historic Third Ward Strategic Implementation Framework. Mayor Turner’s Complete Communities initiative is placing these affordable housing efforts within the context of the city’s broader strategic planning.

We are witnessing a renaissance of impactful affordable housing that heightens momentum in Third Ward, but, on a citywide scale, there is more to be done.

“The need for affordable housing in Houston and Harris County is at a crisis point.” So says the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium, which in March released a report investigating the interplay of affordable multi-family housing issues and flood risk.

The report, prepared by leading researchers from institutions across Texas, finds 1 of every 11 households, more than 140,000 renter families, earned less than $20,000 a year in 2017.

The availability of affordable housing for Greater Houston’s low-income renters is limited and also threatened by a widening gap between demand and supply of affordable housing, a loss of units through demolition and a shamefully low public subsidy rate compared to similar metropolitan areas. A reliance on the private market for affordable housing and the alarming fact that 26 percent of Harris County’s multi-family units lie within a flood plain are also alarming.

In a post-Harvey Houston, there has never been a more urgent need for government, civic, public, and private entities to work in concert to preserve and establish adequate and safe housing supplies. Fortunately, in places like the Third Ward, myriad groups have already assumed the mission.

The progress we have made thus far has been possible because of the foresight and leadership of many committed Houstonians over many decades. It is our turn to bring to bear all the resources we can muster to set the city up for long-term health and prosperity.

Coleman is the Texas state representative for District 147. Kinder is president and CEO of Kinder Foundation, which is one of the sponsors of the Historic Third Ward Strategic Implementation Framework.


Below is an opinion piece that was published in last Wednesday’s Houston Chronicle by Kyle Shelton, deputy director at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Federal housing voucher program works but is vastly underfunded [Opinion]

By Kyle Shelton
Nov. 27, 2019

Montoya Thomas, 20, smiles as she takes a tour of her new apartment Monday, May 8, 2017 in Houston. There are 100,000 families or individuals eligible for federal housing vouchers in the Houston area. But only 15,000 vouchers are provided. Photo: Michael Ciaglo, Staff Photographer / Houston Chronicle.

Housing vouchers are giving recipients in Houston the ability to secure homes in areas that offer better access to opportunities and lower flood risks. The voucher program is a critical piece of the nation’s housing system, providing housing assistance to millions of Americans and allowing them to secure homes on the private market. Here in Houston the program is likewise essential — housing more than 50,000 people on 18,000 vouchers through the Houston Housing Authority.

The Kinder Institute for Urban Research analyzed three years of voucher data and found that about 10 percent of recipients moved during those three years. Those movers tended to relocate to homes with higher rents, in areas with higher median incomes. A wide array of research has shown that regardless of a family’s own income, living in areas with higher incomes can lead to better outcomes, especially for children.

HHA has worked to open areas with greater opportunity to voucher holders by offering higher rent subsidies for homes in specific target areas — often places with higher incomes and higher-performing schools.

However, limits on the voucher program’s reach are preventing it from helping more Houstonians access opportunity. The biggest problem is the low number of available vouchers. The wait list for affordable housing from HHA stretches beyond 100,000 eligible applicants. Expansion of the voucher program requires federal funding and often additions are minor.

Just this week the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department announced funding for an additional 15,000 vouchers nationwide, with 1,546 coming to Texas and 272 new vouchers coming to Houston. Discussions of ways to broaden the program have become a central tenet of the presidential campaigns of multiple Democratic candidates, including some, such as Julián Castro, who are proposing providing vouchers for everyone who is eligible.

The voucher program uses the private housing market to help address affordable housing needs and augments programs that provide traditional government housing for the poor. Given its private market orientation, the program meshes well with Houston’s and Texas’ market-driven approach to challenges. And, with evidence that the program is working well for those who can access it, it makes sense to find ways to expand it and ensure it is working to its full potential.

An element that is preventing the program from functioning as effectively as it could is the fact in Texas landlords can legally refuse vouchers. While there are multiple programs attempting to encourage wider acceptance of vouchers by working with voucher holders and landlords to make the process easier, source-of-income discrimination means that many homes in higher opportunity areas are off the table for voucher holders. Texas could make such discrimination illegal or empower cities to pursue their own approaches to ensure that vouchers holders can find homes in all parts of our community. Taking this action would strengthen an already valuable tool and aid both local jurisdictions and the state in efforts to address our collective housing challenge.

Moving to opportunity also means moving away from risk. In Houston this means avoiding flood-prone areas. Our research found that vouchers holders who moved tended to leave the current 500-year flood plain. However, some voucher holders continue to move into at-risk areas and many who are not moving remain in problem areas. Further education and information about potential flood risks is critical for all voucher holders.

Reducing the number of voucher holders in risky areas can not only protect lives and property, but reduce the cost of supporting longer-term recovery when homes and lives are disrupted.

Our research shows that the voucher program is providing recipients with the opportunity to move into higher income and less flood-prone areas. Pursuing action to expand the program and enabling recipients to live throughout our region in safe, affordable homes will pay dividends not just for our neighbors who use vouchers, but for our entire region.

Shelton is deputy director at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.


EARLY VOTING FOR RUN-OFF ELECTION ENDS THIS TUESDAY
WHEN TO VOTE
  • Friday, 12/6 – Saturday 12/7
    • 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
  • Sunday 12/8
    • 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Monday 12/9 – Tuesday 12/10
    • 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.

WHERE TO VOTE

You may go to ANY polling location in Harris County.Click here for a list of early voting locations in Harris County. Use your zip code to find the most convenient polling location.


WHAT YOU NEED TO BRING 
All you need to bring to the polls is an approved form of ID. Click here for a list of approved forms of ID.

WHAT TO EXPECT ON THE BALLOT Items on your ballot may vary depending on which area of the county you reside. Click here to find your specific sample ballot.


ELECTION DAY 

Election Day is Saturday, December 14th from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. I will keep you updated on Election Day info, but in the meantime, I encourage you to vote early as lines are typically shorter.


MY ENDORSEMENTS

I endorse the following candidates and incumbents in the Houston run-off election:Sylvester Turner for Mayor(campaign website)
I am once again endorsing Sylvester Turner for Houston Mayor. I served with then Representative Turner for 24 years in the Texas Legislature. Additionally, over the last four years, he has led the city through Hurricane Harvey, pension reform, lowering the crime rate, and much moreNo one is more qualified than Mayor Turner to continue to lead our city.  Click here to read the Houston Chronicle’s endorsement of Mayor Turner.

Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Raj Salhotra for City Council Member, At-Large Position 1 (campaign website)
Raj Salhotra has shown a dedication to Houston as both a teacher and a city employee. He is ready to continue serving Houston as a member of the city council.
David Robinson for City Council Member, At-Large Position 2 (campaign website)
Councilman David Robinson has been a valuable member of the Houston City Council and deserves to be re-elected. Click here to read the Houston Chronicle’s endorsement of David Robinson.  

Letitia Plummer for City Council Member, At-Large Position 4  (campaign website)
Letitia Plummer is dedicated to the city of Houston, and will be a voice for the people on city council. Click here to read the Houston Chronicle’s endorsement of Letitia Plummer.

Sallie Alcorn for City Council Member, At-Large Position 5 (campaign website)
Sallie Alcorn has spent the past 10 years working for three council members and the city’s flood czar—this experience will help her excel as a member of city council. Click here to read the Houston Chronicle’s endorsement of Sallie Alcorn.


Abbie Kamin for City Council Member, District C (campaign website)
Click here to read the Houston Chronicle’s endorsement of Abbie Kamin.

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz for City Council Member, District D (campaign website)
Carolyn Evans-Shabazz is dedicated to public service, as she has demonstrated the last four years as an HCC trustee and as a public school teacher before that. Her dedication to public service will make her a fine addition to the city council.

HCC Trustee Carolyn Evans-Shabazz with Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston).

Karla Cisneros for City Council Member, District H (campaign website)
Councilwoman Karla Cisneros deserves to be re-elected to continue focusing on the issues that matter to her constituents, such as education and economic equality. Click here to read the Houston Chronicle’s endorsement of Karla Cisneros.
Rhonda Skillern-Jones for HCC District II (campaign website)
Rhonda Skillern-Jones was a strong voice for students while she served on the HISD school board and she will continue to be that strong voice for HCC students. Click here to read the Houston Chronicle’s endorsement of Rhonda Skillern-Jones.

  

9 Days Left to Get Health Care Through ACA

Texans can buy health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace NOW through Sunday, December 15th.

Federal health law created the marketplace for people who don’t get insurance through an employer, Medicaid or Medicare.

Despite what President Trump says, the ACA is still the law of the land and the federal funding is available for the millions of Texans who wouldn’t be able to afford coverage otherwise. Get enrolled today.

Click here for more information.


What To Watch This Week:

Our video of the week is from C-SPAN.  After announcing the House would move forward with impeachment proceedings, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) was asked, “Do you hate the president?” She replied, “I don’t hate anybody…As a Catholic, I resent your using the word hate in a sentence that addresses me. I don’t hate anyone…so, don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that.” You can watch below or click here.


Cartoon of the Week

Joel Pett | Copyright 2019 Tribune Content Agency

Song of the Week

Our song of the week is Blue Christmas by Elvis.

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