28 Mar RGV housing advocates participate in Affordable Housing Day in Austin
Proponents of affordable housing united with a common goal in Austin on Tuesday urging legislators to consider dedicating millions of federal funds on a problem that could have a long-term impact.
Spurred by an idea from a Brownsville nonprofit focusing on housing, Come Dream, Come Build, or CDCB, multiple agencies representing varied interests in housing rallied together as part of Affordable Housing Day at the capitol.
“Usually in the policy space, all those actors act in their own lanes and rarely actually come together. But for this, they did. So we were really kind of heartened by that,” Daniel Elkin, the CDCB’s director of policy, impact and innovation, said Tuesday.
Over 33 people attended meetings in Austin representing Texas Housers, the Texas Association of Community Development Corporations, NeighborWorks Alliance of Texas, Avenue Community Development Corporation, Business and Community Members of Texas, Texas Homeless Network, Disability Rights Texas, among others.
Elkin said they were able to hold a meeting between the partners in a room as part of state Sen. Morgan LaMantia’s sponsorship of Affordable Housing Day.
Housing advocates focused their efforts on appealing to legislators that the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds appropriated to the state should be used on three main problems that could have a long-term effect on home ownership, poverty and the economy.
The organizers brainstormed and agreed on proposing three funding recommendations: replenishing the Texas Rental Relief fund with $750M; the Development and Preservation of Deeply Affordable and Attainable Housing Grant fund with $750M; and the Down Payment Assistance Grant fund with $100M.
The three ‘asks’ are designed to work together.
“The three asks are designed to hit at every level,” Elkin said. “Texas rent relief is we’re trying to keep you with a roof over your head so that you’re not facing eviction, because once you face eviction your path to financial security is pretty rough. So that’s like triage, you know, just trying to stop the bleeding, keep you safe.”
Funding could also be used to help create more affordable options.
“Low income units are about getting you in a unit that’s affordable, so you can actually start saving up some money and have that good financial situation,” Elkin added. “And then level three is downpayment assistance, which is, “Hey, now you’re ready to make the jump to housing. Here’s a little help to get you in.’ So we very intentionally tried to go at all three levels.”
Elkin felt optimistic about the conversations they held with legislators, especially after answering the most common question they had: can ARPA funds be used for these purposes?
Federal funds often come with restrictions and deadlines.
In Hidalgo County last year, residents lost out on over a million dollars in federal aid for failing to request the assistance in time.
The Treasury Department determines what services qualify for funding. Elkin said one popular idea in Austin, property tax relief, turned out not to be eligible for funding.
“They really wanted clarification that … if ARPA dollars could be used for housing. So we gave them those assurances. We’ve vetted each of these three programs,” Elkin said. “We gave them examples of other states that are using this in this way.”
Legislators are on a short deadline to decide how to use the money.
“It has to be spent in the next two years. So it has to be done,” Elkin said.
The current 88th Legislature term is set to end in May.
“If they haven’t figured it out by then we are going to lose the money because it has to be spent in the next two years,” Elkin said.
Advocates were heartened by the conversations on Affordable Housing Day, but look forward to continuing the push for their proposals.
“I think we need to stay on top of them with this issue,” Elkin said. “But I think that the broadness of the coalition definitely made them aware. It kind of perked them up a little bit.”