As Texas grapples with historically high home prices and rents, state legislators may attempt to alleviate the affordability crisis with proposals based on a simple premise: build more homes, and costs will fall.
Several bills have been introduced in Texas in this legislative session to expedite the construction of new houses and apartments. Some would allow builders to use less land when constructing single-family homes, making it easier for them to obtain local permits and making it more difficult for neighborhood groups to oppose new housing projects.
Dramatic Intervention For A Legislature
These steps would be a dramatic intervention for a Legislature that has historically not prioritized housing affordability — an indication that high housing costs have become increasingly difficult to ignore and that no part of the state has been left untouched.
“In years gone by, people might have looked at affordable housing and said, ‘Oh well, this is an issue just in the urban centers,’” said Sherri Greenberg, a former state representative who is now a fellow at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. “That’s not true anymore.”
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It remains to be seen how the debate over increasing housing construction will play out in the Legislature, if at all. It has the potential to devolve into a nasty fight between proponents of more housing and vehemently opposed neighborhood groups. However, it could be a rare bipartisan cause that garners support from both Democrats and Republicans.
Texas Affordability Crisis
Housing experts believe a nationwide shortage of homes and apartments and high demand have driven up housing prices.
This shortage hits low-income households hardest. Last decade, Texas lost nearly half of its low-rent housing units, making it harder for low-income families to find affordable housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that the state has one of the largest gaps between extremely low-income households and affordable homes. 25 rentals are available per 100 extremely low-income households.
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Roger Arriaga, executive director of Texas Affiliation of Affordable Housing Providers, said the crisis affects households at nearly every income level.
“The issue of high price and high cost of housing has kind of gone up the income chain,” he said. “It’s not just those at the lowest end.”
Texas builds more homes than any other state, but housing advocates, builders, and real estate experts agree that the state isn’t building enough to meet its population and economic growth. According to one estimate, Texas needed 330,000 more homes in 2019—second only to California.
As hundreds of thousands of new residents moved to the state in the last two years, that needs to be increased. Texas home prices and rents reached record highs due to millennials and corporate buyers competing for a limited housing supply.
If housing construction doesn’t increase, Texas, which is expected to gain nearly 1.6 million new residents by the end of the decade, could end up like New York and California, with even higher home prices, forcing out residents who can’t afford them, and losing its status as an affordable state, one of the main reasons people and corporations move here.
“Texas has made its economic development messaging around affordability,” said Steven Pedigo, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ Urban Lab. “The cost advantage is not there anymore.”
Luke Nosek, PayPal co-founder and chair of Texans for Reasonable Solutions, a nonprofit supporting many Republican initiatives this session, said the state needs more housing to keep up with a job and economic growth.
“Texas wins if the Legislature acts to allow builders to build more housing at a faster pace,” he said.
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