11 percent of Harris County census tracts home to some low-income housing projects

Only 11 percent of Harris County’s census tracts are home to the area’s 126 competitive, low-income housing tax credit(LIHTC) projects for the general population; this finding suggests more needs to be done to increase access to affordable housing options across the nation’s third-largest county, according to a new report from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

The report, “Growing But Unequal: Mapping High-Opportunity Areas and Implications for Affordable Housing in Houston,” examines affordable housing options in the Greater Houston area (Harris County) as of September 2016. It focuses on the opportunity side of the discussion about where to place LIHTC properties and informs a larger debate between high-opportunity areas and revitalization areas.

“Greater Houston’s immense economic and population growth brings a number of benefits to the region, but those benefits are not evenly enjoyed by all residents,” said Dian Nostikasari, a research fellow at the Kinder Institute and one of the study’s authors. “Perhaps no issue illustrates this problem more than the challenge of providing high-quality, safe and affordable housing to every resident, at every income level, in areas that offer opportunities for quality employment and education.”

General population LIHTC properties are located mostly in lower-income areas (household income below $40,000) and outside Houston’s Inner Loop, which Nostikasari said concentrates some of the most economically disadvantaged people in areas with lack of access to jobs and transportation options. In Harris County census tracts with existing LIHTC properties, subsidized units represent approximately 24 percent of all available multifamily units. Moreover, LIHTC units that received the 9 percent competitive tax credit are located in tracts where they make up above half of multifamily housing stock.

“Low-income renters are often the most vulnerable of the cost-burdened populations,” Nostikasari said. “It is challenging for these households to find affordable, safe rental units in most cities, and unfortunately, Houston and Harris County are no exception. And this need for safe, affordable homes has only increased since Hurricane Harvey as renters whose homes were damaged struggle to locate new homes after the flood.”

Nostikasari said that LIHTC properties remain separate from areas of Harris County that could be called the highest-opportunity areas. Higher-opportunity areas are broadly described as places with low poverty, high median household income, ease of access to public facilities and services and good schools. These areas are defined by Texas’ current Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP), the mechanism by which the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs sets the criteria by which it will select to whom it will award housing tax credits. Presently, most of these areas are located outside of Beltway 8 and primarily to the west of Houston.

“High-opportunity areas often have important urban amenities (good schools, better infrastructure), but they are expensive and residents of these areas often put up political resistance to proposed affordable housing developments,” In many this not-in-my-backyard opposition stems from concerns about property value, increasing crime, overcrowded schools, increasing traffic congestion or design quality.”

Under the 2016 QAP, areas qualified to receive the maximum Opportunity Index points census tracts, but existing LIHTC units were found in only four of those 148 tracts. The Opportunity Index is an annual composite measure at the state and county levels of economic, educational and civic factors that expand opportunity.

“Many of the concerns about the location of subsidized housing have been countered by research into the impacts of affordable housing projects,” Nostikasari said. “Property values tend to not be affected when subsidized units are placed within host neighborhoods that are economically healthy and vibrant. However, property values are negatively affected when affordable housing units are clustered or located close to each other. This conclusion makes it all the more important that the location of future subsidized units be considered carefully.”

The researchers hope the report will encourage decision-makers to consider how affordable housing impacts economic mobility, employment access and overall quality of life.

Other authors of the study were Kyle Shelton, director of strategic partnerships for the Kinder Institute; Taylor Morin, a Rice junior majoring in mathematical economical analysis; and Kelsey Walker, a former postbaccalaureate fellow for the Kinder Institute.

The report is available online at http://kinder.rice.edu/.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.