On Wednesday, February 19, Houston City Council voted to approve
resolutions giving the city’s support to 23 proposed Low Income Housing
Tax Credit developments scattered throughout Houston. The Low Income
Housing Tax Credit program allows apartment operators to take a credit
against their income tax in exchange for agreeing to lease apartments at
affordable rents to residents with incomes below a certain percentage
of the average income for the area.
The resolution passed to support all 23 proposals, but not without
opposition to various projects by various council members – mostly for
the proposed communities in their districts.
Houston’s support for affordable housing is not new. Mayor Sylvester
Turner has worked hard to ramp up the city’s efforts to provide more
housing options for more low-income Houstonians. What is new, though, is
the holistic approach of mapping out and passing 20 tax credit support
resolutions at one time, with the properties very meticulously dispersed
throughout the entire city. The city’s list of supported projects
include some in high-dollar neighborhoods that have not been chosen for
affordable housing in the past. Two of the properties are in the Heights
and one is on Post Oak Boulevard inside Loop 610.
Why is the city looking at these locations, and why now?
A few years ago, Houston began planning a 233-unit affordable housing
community on Fountain View, in the Galleria area. At an estimated $53
million, the property was far more expensive that most similar projects.
On the one hand, the project would have provided 233 units in a “high
opportunity area,” zoned for good schools. On the other hand, that same
sum of money could have provided many more badly-needed housing units in
areas with lower land costs. Mayor Turner opposed the Fountain View
property in favor of other options that would provide housing for more
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development immediately
launched a five-month investigation, which resulted in a scathing
14-page letter accusing the city of “blocking and deterring affordable
housing proposals in integrated neighborhoods.”
“The city’s refusal to issue a resolution of no objection for
Fountain View was motivated either in whole or in part by the race,
color, or national origin of the likely tenants,” Garry Sweeney,
director of HUD’s Fort Worth’s regional office of fair housing and equal
opportunity, wrote. “More generally, the department finds that the
city’s procedures for approving Low-Income Housing Tax Credit
applications are influenced by racially motivated opposition to
affordable housing and perpetuate segregation.”
Mayor Turner, an African-American with strong roots among low-income
Houstonians, saw the issue very differently. To him, focusing solely on
housing in “high opportunity areas” was basically telling low-income
Houstonians they should give up on their neighborhoods, and that working
to improve the areas where they live would be a waste of money. If they
want a better life, by that logic, they should give up on the
neighborhoods they know and move somewhere else. Turner, as evidenced by
his commitment to the Complete Communities program, is a supporter of
investing in low-income communities and turning them into the
high-opportunity areas in which HUD wants affordable housing.
Reasonable people can disagree about the best approach to affordable
housing, but the most important point may be simply that Houston needs
more affordable housing everywhere. With a population of over 2 million,
Houston’s roughly 78,000 subsidized units are not nearly enough. As the
cost of housing continues to rise faster than wages for unskilled and
low-skilled workers, the gap between supply and demand is going to
continue to grow.
Meanwhile, the 20 Houston properties supported by Houston City
Council for tax credits will now have to compete for those credits with
properties all over the state. Out of the 20 supported by the City of
Houston, only about 10 are likely to be awarded credits and proceed to
Is this a good idea? Do you think there are better ways to proceed, and, if so, what suggestions would you have if you were a member of the Houston City Council?