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June 12, 2000     (512) 463-0300

Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee Examines Subdivision Regulations and Public Housing

AUSTIN - The Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee met today, Monday, June 12th, in a hearing at the State Capitol.

Senate members heard testimony relating to committee charges 3 and 5, issued by Lt. Governor Rick Perry to be studied during this legislative interim. Charge 3 orders the committee to review the statutory authority granted to local governments to regulate the development of residential subdivisions. The committee shall identify conflicting provisions and make recommendations to clarify existing statutes.

Testimony was provided about a number of concerns, from the lack of regulations for toxic products' storage and flea markets outside city limits, to the lack of affordable housing in these areas. The problem of colonias in the Rio Grande Valley was also discussed at length. The colonias offer the most affordable housing, but not one the state wants to promote.

Ed Garza, Council Member of the City of San Antonio, referred to problems created by low-income housing built outside the city limits, in areas that have later been incorporated. Now they have to comply with more regulations, and have problems like lack of roads to the city and lack of infrastructure and building codes. Garza called for a better coordinating effort between city and county officials to solve these problems.

Bob Litke, Director of the City of Houston Department of Planning and Development, called Houston "a developer friendly city", and testified they do not have major problems of substandard conditions in annexed subdivisions.

Ray Tonjes, a home builder, and Wayne Harwell, owner and president of Harwell Properties, also testified. One of the issues presented concerned the industry of manufactured housing --those pre-manufactured elsewhere and finished on site. Approximately one third of new houses in Texas are of this type, and Harwell says we may come to a point where most homes costing less than $100,000 will be manufactured homes. Harwell also stated his opposition to double regulatory procedures created by different agencies, which lead to increased costs and idle time waiting for approvals.

Other invited testimonies about charge 3 were provided by Donald Lee, Executive Director of the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, Norman Dugas, President of Dugas Diversified Development, and Frank Turner, Executive Director of Planning from the City of Plano.

The next charge discussed, number 5, orders the committee to examine the powers, functions and programs administered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) and the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation (TSAHC). The committee's report will assess the methodology used in allocating the various housing funds and resources, including the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program and the Housing Trust Fund, and the compliance by the agency with that methodology. The report should also address whether the programs administered by TDHCA and the TSAHC meet the affordable housing demands of targeted population groups throughout the state of Texas.

Daisy Stiner, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, gave ample testimony about some of her departmentŐs divisions and the services they provide to the low-income population. These are the Community Affairs Division, the Community Development Block Grant Division, the Office of Colonia Initiatives, and the Manufactured Housing Division. Ms. Stiner reminded committee members that despite the booming economy, the housing crisis continues to grow in Texas, as in the nation as a whole. She predicts that by the end of 2000, 1.9 million households in Texas will need some kind of housing assistance. Since urban housing receives federal funds, her agency recommends that the state funds focus in rural housing.

Another point in Ms. Stiner testimony was how to assist rural communities in applying for housing grants. She recommends the communities to ask assistance from grant writers, saying that 90% of rural communities that have received grants, have had the collaboration of grant writers, who in many cases are not paid until the grant is effective. The agency has also a food and nutrition program that extends grants to non-profit organizations at a local and state level. These groups provide food assistance to low and extremely low-income families, and are involved in other programs like the promotion of farmer markets in certain communities. Other programs provide clothing, health and transportation assistance, shelter for the homeless, assistance to pay utility services, disaster relief for naturally caused damages like flooding, and loan assistance for people with disabilities.

Stiner also referred to the problems of the colonias in the Rio Grande Valley: their insufficient services and infrastructure, among others. The colonias have grown unchecked for years and today they reach a combined population like that of the city of Fort Worth. The state agency has set up self-help centers that provide assistance to 25 colonias, but they need more funds to extend their reach to even more. Another program discussed was the Texas Bootstrap Program that provides loans for improving housing conditions. The Manufactured Housing Division regulates the manufacturing, transportation, installation, inspection and dispute resolutions relative to manufactured housing. Texas is one of the few states that has this type of regulations; state funds and construction industry fees fund the program.

Members of the committee include Senators Frank L. Madla of San Antonio serving as chair, Jon Lindsay of Houston serving as vice-chair, Rodney Ellis of Houston, Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth, and Drew Nixon of Carthage.

The committee stands recessed subject to the call of the chair. Members will submit a report to be used in the drafting of legislation for the 77th Legislature, which convenes in January of 2001.

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