Affordable Housing in the WC
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WCREALTORS hosted the first of what we hope will be many future discussions related to affordable housing. This roundtable discussion, held on April 26th, was attended by REALTORS®, builders, lenders, developers, association members, local and state agency representatives, and housing advocates. Each shared insights from their perspective on the need for reasonably priced homes and the challenges and obstacles of providing such product to our communities. Our purpose for this first meeting was to begin a dialogue among local professionals and to educate the community on the needs and benefits of affordable housing.
Fantastic growth in the area has created a large demand for housing, especially affordable units. During the session we spent a good deal of time trying to define what the term “affordable” means. Using HUD maximum income levels for Williamson County that are required to live in affordable communities, typical income levels for a family would range between $32,000 and $48,000 per year. This level of income makes it impossible for more than half our fellow citizens to afford the median home price of about $250,000. Students working part-time, retail workers, service jobs, entry-level firemen and police officers, teachers, government workers, restaurant workers and military veterans are just a few of the industries and jobs that make less than $44,000 per year. A recent housing report indicated there is a need for over 1,200 workforce housing units in the Georgetown area alone.
Though there was consensus among the group that we do in fact have an affordable housing crisis, we all understand the challenge of finding solutions. Land costs, building material prices, labor cost increases due to the demand were issues brought into focus by our builders. The lenders felt there was money available for loans to lower income buyers but credit scores and down payment requirements make it harder for buyers to become homeowners. It was also noted that real estate investors “pay up” the prices of smaller homes with cash offers and then make them rental units. From a development perspective there are simply more costs, including City and County regulations and fees. Thus, project profitability requires larger, more expensive homes to cover these costs. In a nutshell, it is very difficult to build a substantial number of affordable units without active community and government support.
King Bravo, a local REALTOR®, gave a summary of a project that may serve as a model. He is working to develop a property near Liberty Hill plans to build small homes at prices around $110,000. This is possible because the landowner is willing to forgo extraordinary land values to “do good” for the community. In addition, the development is not in the City and thus is able to save on fees.
The discussion then shifted focus to attempt to address the challenges of affordable developments in Williamson County. To reduce land costs affordable housing is naturally pushed to the rural portions of Williamson County. However, families who can then afford the home face long commute times, fuel costs and a lack of nearby services such as grocery stores, medical offices and day care. These developments then create more traffic problems for everyone. It would seem logical that infill of areas closer to town center and services makes sense. Unfortunately, City ordinances and zoning often prohibit and inhibit development in these areas. Add to that the higher land costs and neighborhoods that do not want “affordable” housing and we have the current situation of a huge lack of affordable housing.
If we provide housing at an affordable rate in neighborhoods where they can walk to schools, grocery stores, employment and use public transportation or bikes, will take vehicles off our already crowded highways. Homeowners can get to work on time, go home and take care of family, and reduce their monthly expenses for fuel and vehicle maintenance. Apartments are one solution, as they provide amenities and savings to residents in locations nearer the jobs. This also allows residents a chance to slowly obtain home ownership. However, city zoning again is critical to development. Sensitivity to the neighborhood is also important for affordable housing.
I believe this first meeting was a huge success. The participants educated us on the challenges faced by all members of the community and community government. This task will be challenging as the stigma of what “affordable” means and the negative view and fear many have of the people who need this housing is shocking. A first challenge may be to change the term. We did not expect to solve all the issues with one meeting and we all learned how complex this issue is, but we also felt we can achieve our mission of educating the community and especially local government and agencies of the pressing need to help the 50% of our county who can’t afford our median priced home of $250,000.
“If you’re in the luckiest one percent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 percent.” ― Warren Buffett
Article written by: Rita Snyder, member of the Williamson County Association of REALTORS Affordable Housing Task Force