Home ownership is one answer to housing shortage

06/10/2014 5:32 PM

06/10/2014 5:33 PM

One of the biggest challenges for any growing community is ensuring there is enough quality, affordable housing for residents across the income strata.

So when the Fort Worth City Council voted earlier this spring to modify its tax abatement policy for residential developers, it was making a small but needed change that may make more funds available for low-income housing projects.

Targeting that demographic is imperative for a city facing a 17,000-unit shortfall for families living at 30 percent of the area median income.

While the city appear to lack a comprehensive plan to effectively address its affordable housing shortage, leaders are taking incremental yet important steps to tackle it.

The latest came last week, when the council unanimously approved the sale of a dozen foreclosed properties to the Tarrant County Housing Partnership and 30 similar properties to Trinity Habitat for Humanity.

The properties were sold at a discounted rate, allowing the nonprofits to purchase them for a fraction of their appraised value.

In turn, that makes it possible for TCHP and Habitat to spend the lion’s share of their funds on constructing new, affordable homes for low-income families.

District 8 Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray told Star-Telegram reporter Caty Hirst that the city’s discounted property sale “starts to address affordable housing from home ownership,” something that hasn’t been a large part of the discussion up to this point.

Higher rates of home ownership in neighborhoods, while not necessarily causal, are often associated with positive outcomes for children and families — from educational attainment to health — and generally lead to stronger, more vibrant communities on the whole.

Unlike multi-family housing units, affordable homes, for obvious reasons, are much more difficult to come by.

But the city’s change in its tax abatement policy should, over time, grow the coffers in the long-ignored Fort Worth Housing Finance Corp. trust fund, which might be used to support cost-efficient housing projects like those sponsored by TCHP and Habitat.

The challenge of creating enough housing for a diverse and growing community looms large, but even small steps toward meeting this need are worth taking.

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