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During last week’s speech on the state of the city, Mayor Steve Adler identified issues the city has been grappling with, including defeating Covid and homelessness. He also pointed out the next big issues the city must tackle in order to allow Austinites to continue to live and thrive here. The top issue on the list? Affordability.
Adler provided a lengthy fact sheet on affordability designed to demonstrate that, despite the pandemic, Austin remains one of the best places to live in the country in terms of employment.
According to the mayor’s data, Austin has the lowest unemployment rate among the 25 largest cities in the U.S. In July that rate was 4.2 percent, as compared to a high of 12.1 percent in 2020. For the state of Texas as a whole, the rate in 2020 was 12.9 percent, falling to 6.7 percent earlier this summer.
A report from the Austin Chamber of Commerce was even rosier, stating that, on a seasonally adjusted basis, Austin’s July unemployment rate was 4.0 percent, down from 4.4 percent in June.
“Among Texas’ other major metros, Dallas and San Antonio have the next lowest seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, 5.0 percent in July, while Fort Worth is at 5.2 percent, and Houston’s rate is 6.5 percent,” the chamber reports, using data produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
The mayor’s memo on affordability states that Austin has added jobs in 14 of the last 15 months and “regained all but 300 of spring 2020’s pandemic-related job losses.”
Adler argues that Austin has the “the second-best-performing major job market since the beginning of the pandemic.”
“As of July, more than 16,500 jobs had been announced from roughly 60 companies moving to the region and nearly 70 expansions of companies already in the Austin area. This is yet another reflection of how much is going well here and how desirable a city we are. We’ve attracted new, clean manufacturing that will bring much-needed middle-skill jobs (jobs that don’t require a degree) to a city where that is our most significant employment need,” he continued.
But having the jobs and providing the people with the skills to do the jobs are two different things. One thing the city did was provide funding for Workforce Solutions, which has experienced a tenfold demand for remote workforce training and enrolled more people in the first four months of 2021 than it typically would have in an entire year, according to the mayor. Still, it’s a slow process. Over the past year, 574 people have enrolled in the program, with 209 completing the training so far. Of those, 112 have gotten local jobs, according to Workforce Solutions.
Adler likes to compare Austin with Denver and Seattle. Denver’s rate of unemployment was 6.7 percent in June, while Seattle’s was 4.5 percent.
However, according to the website MoneyGeek.com, Austin ranks 18th in terms of job opportunities and wages. The rankings there go beyond unemployment rates and take into account taxes and cost of living. Salt Lake City, Utah, and Birmingham, Alabama, topped its list of best cities for job seekers, taking into account overall job growth, competition for jobs and housing affordability.
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington was ranked 17th, beating Austin by less than 2 points overall. MoneyGeek gave Austin 72.6 points, compared with DFW at 74.5 points. Denver and Seattle – the mayor’s two points of comparison – were ranked considerably lower. Seattle came in at 28 and Denver at 29. Houston was ranked at 45, Los Angeles-Long Beach at 50 and New York at 51.
The website found that cities that are major entertainment hubs, including New York City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Chicago, fell to the bottom of the list. “However, with the exception of Las Vegas, many of the lower-ranked cities are in high-rent, high-tax areas, including the city that MoneyGeek identified as the worst city for job seekers in 2021: Hartford, Connecticut. In contrast, the top cities – Salt Lake City, Birmingham, Indianapolis and Nashville – are in areas with a lower tax burden and lower living costs.”
Adler, like a lot of long-term Austinites, remembers a time when Austin was the most affordable big city in Texas. Austin’s affordability problem, he notes, is very much related to housing costs.
According to data from RentCafe, the average monthly rent for an Austin apartment is $1,539 a month for an 865-square-foot home. That compares with $1,763 for an 832-square-foot apartment in Denver and $2,234 a month in Seattle for a space that is just 692 square feet.
However, in Nashville that number is $1,502 for an 888-square-foot apartment, while in Salt Lake City the average rent is $1,353 for an 832-square-foot space. The rental price in Nashville has increased by 6 percent over the past year, while the average rent in Salt Lake City has risen by 9 percent over the past year, just like Austin’s. While the rent in Seattle remains exceptionally high, the price has fallen by 4 percent over the past year, according to data from RentCafe.
The city of Austin assisted 5,452 households in 2020 through the emergency rent relief program, which distributed more than $37 million in assistance. The mayor points out that the current City Council has worked to increase the city’s housing supply by providing creative subsidies for affordable housing, including enhanced density bonuses. He said with voter approval of housing bonds, Council has approved more than 600 new units of permanent supportive housing, compared with just 60 in the first two years of its term.
Council also took action earlier this summer to help homeowners by increasing the homestead exemption from 10 percent to 20 percent of a home’s assessed value. According to city data, the typical median household will pay $141 per year less in property taxes than under the old formula.
While not directly related to the cost of housing, Austin has invested in the child care labor force that allows Austinites with young children to focus on their own jobs. Adler says Austin has distinguished itself from other Texas cities by providing $6 million in grants for day care facilities that offer services for families relying on child care subsidies.
The city also provided $100,000 in emergency relief grants for family-based child care providers. Adler believes that without the city’s rapid response to the child care emergency, many of the programs would have disappeared.
In a Sept. 7 news release, NRP Group announced it has broken ground on its project, The James on Grand Avenue, located at 15701 FM 1325, Austin. The project site is near Austin’s border with Round Rock in Williamson County.
According to the news release, The James on Grand Avenue will offer apartment units to residents earning up to 60% of the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area median family income. For a one-person household, that means someone earning below $41,580 annually would qualify for a unit, according to recent figures from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Population growth and housing demand in Austin has exploded these past several years as technology companies like Tesla, Apple and Samsung gravitate to the city. The need for more affordable housing accommodations for residents with moderate income profiles is extremely high,” said Jason Arechiga, senior vice president of development for the NRP Group, in the company’s news release.
The James on Grand Avenue will feature seven separate buildings with one- to four-bedroom units available for rent. Amenities at the development will include a pool, a fitness center, a children’s center and a playground, a community center and more. According to the Sept. 7 news release, the housing development will additionally offer wraparound services, such as financial literacy training, first-time homebuyer programs and after-school programming for children.
Leasing for units at The James on Grand Avenue is expected to begin August 2022, though final completion is not scheduled until June 2023.
The Capital Area Housing Finance Corp., which is made of representatives from 10 Central Texas counties, is partnering with the NRP Group on the project.
The project is utilizing housing revenue bonds and tax credits to help fund the development of the project, according to the Sept. 7 news release.
NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) — On September 7 the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) announced it had distributed more than $750 million in rental and utility assistance to more than 124,000 Texas households impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officials say there is another $34 million already committed to being paid in the next few days.
According to a report from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Texas is the country’s leading state in both households served and program funds distributed.
“The Texas Rent Relief program has cleared major hurdles and our strong efforts at outreaching to all Texans have been effective, reaching 92% of Texas counties with relief funds,” said Bobby Wilkinson, TDHCA Executive Director. “We’ve also partnered with other statewide agencies and organizations such as the Texas Apartment Association and Public Utilities Commission to share information about available assistance and outreach resources to ensure those most at risk of eviction or utility disconnection get the help they need.”
Once the Texas Rent Relief Program begins processing an application for eligibility, the most significant delay is receiving any missing federally required documentation necessary to approve funding.
Some advice for applicants —
Tenants and landlords may check their Texas Rent Relief program application status here or by calling 833-989-7368. Landlords will only see the status of their tenant’s application once their application IDs are linked in the system.
The Texas Rent Relief Program is an opportunity to get up to 12 months of back due rent and even secure up to three months of future rent stability for tenants, as well as utility assistance. Landlords can get up to 15 months of rent paid through this program, but only if they don’t evict.
Texas leads the nation in distributing rent and utility assistance funds based on an interim report released by the U.S. Treasury in late July. The report included program performance data through June 30, 2021, on all local and state governments who received funds through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERA1).
The dated report showed Texas distributing $446 million in funds and assisting 52,122 households. Virginia was second with $223.2 million distributed; Massachusetts third with $117 million; California was fourth with $105.1 million; and Illinois listed fifth with $95.4 million distributed. Twenty states or territories had distributed less than $5 million.
It should be noted that the performance of the Texas program, administered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), accounted for one-quarter (26%) of all states’ disbursement of $1,795,700,000 through ERA1 funding.
Treasury has set an August 6th deadline for reporting for July 2021. Accordingly the next public report is expected later this month.
On September 25, 2020, the Texas Supreme Court issued an emergency order that establishes the Texas Eviction Diversion Program. The release of the Court’s order coincided with Governor Greg Abbott’s public commitment to allocate funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to be used for rental assistance and legal aid for tenants who are behind on their rent.
In a press release issued on September 25, Governor Greg Abbott announced the allocation of over $171 million in funding from the CARES Act which will primarily be used for targeted rental assistance for Texans at risk of becoming homeless due to eviction.
Out of these funds, $167 million will go to targeted rental assistance and $4.2 million will be allocated through the Texas Supreme Court to help the state’s legal aid providers and pro bono lawyers provide basic legal services to eligible Texans through this pandemic.
The Governor’s press release goes on to say that the funding will allow the Supreme Court of Texas, the Office of Court Administration, and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) to work in partnership with local governments and non-profits and the newly created Texas Eviction Diversion Program to help renters stay in their homes, catch up on missed rental payments, and avoid an eviction on their records.
The Supreme Court’s order will become effective on October 12, 2020, for pilot counties prescribed by the Office of Court Administration, and on November 9, 2020, for all other counties. This order expires December 18, 2020, unless extended by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
(AUSTIN) – The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) has announced awards through the 2020 Housing Tax Credit (HTC) Program allocation that will help finance the development or rehabilitation of rental properties offering reduced rents and increased housing options throughout the state. The awards are made possible through the Competitive (9%) HTC Program.
TDHCA will provide $81.6 million in housing tax credits to private developers constructing or rehabilitating 71 properties (totaling 5,296 units) across the state that will offer rents affordable to households earning up to 60 percent of the area median family income. Investors purchasing credits allocated to developers may apply the credits toward their federal tax liability each year for 10 years on a dollar-for-dollar basis in exchange for their investment in the property; marking today’s awards an approximate value of $810 million over the 10-year term.
“With today’s awards, TDHCA continues its efforts to establish or rehabilitate high-quality and affordable housing for working families and elderly Texans,” explained Bobby Wilkinson. “The housing tax credit programs serve not only as essential financial tools to aid in the development and construction of affordable housing, but also help local economies with strong job creation.”
This year’s Competitive 9% HTCs are expected to help finance the building of 54 high quality, new properties with a total of 4,359 units, and the rehabilitation of 17 properties offering 937 units to income-eligible households across the state. The at-risk set aside, totaling more than $12 million for the 2020 cycle, is used for the rehabilitation or reconstruction of aging housing developments that could soon lose rental subsidies provided to their low-income residents.
In 2019, the HTC Programs (Competitive 9% and Non-competitive 4% HTC Programs) accounted for more than $136 million (par value of $1.36 billion) being awarded to developers to help in the construction or rehabilitation of more than 120 multifamily properties, with more than 12,500 units being preserved or built. It’s estimated that the new construction and rehabilitation of those developments, alone, led to the creation of more than 25,000 jobs statewide, and produced an approximately $4.2 billion economic impact for the state**.
The Housing Tax Credit Program, authorized under the Internal Revenue Code, is the state’s primary means of directing private capital toward the development of affordable rental housing. Developers use proceeds from the sale of the credits as financing for their property. The credits announced today are designed to cover approximately 70 percent of each property’s eligible development costs.
*As of December 2019.
**total does not include job creation, increased property tax valuations, and economic activity made possible by reduced rents.
About the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs
_The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs is committed to expanding fair housing choice and opportunities for Texans through the administration and funding of affordable housing and homeownership opportunities, weatherization, and community-based services with the help of for-profits, nonprofits, and local governments. For more information about fair housing, funding opportunities, or services in your area, please visit www.tdhca.state.tx.us or the Learn about Fair Housing in Texas page. _