City’s housing solution takes the long view

The phrase “kicking the can down the road” is used so frequently during policy-making debates that calling it a cliché is an understatement.

But that’s the concern raised by Fort Worth City Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, who worries that a proposed change to the city’s tax abatement policy aimed at making more money available for low-income housing only amounts to can-kicking.

Currently, the city offers tax credits to developers who agree to reserve 20 percent of their units for residents living between 60 and 80 percent of the area’s median income level.

Under existing policy, the city has generated a surplus of more than 8,000 units for families at that income level, but it has a dearth of units (17,000 short) for families living at 30 percent of the median income.

That means thousands of area families are siphoning dollars away from other expenses to pay for housing they can barely afford.

Jay Chapa, the city’s director of housing and economic development, says the gap between fair market value and potential income earned on lower-rent units (those 30 percent of median income) would basically nullify any incentive the city could offer to developers.

A proposed compromise would permit developers to pay $200 per year per apartment during the incentive agreement’s term in lieu of building affordable, multifamily housing units. (The city approved this option for two developments in February.)

It wouldn’t give developers a fail-safe alternative to avoid accommodating Fort Worth’s diverse population needs; the City Council would still approve development projects and could deny developers the “buyout” option.

The monies paid by developers would go to the Fort Worth Housing Finance Corp. trust fund, which was established in 2005 but has not received support from the city’s general fund since 2008.

The fund has helped support projects — renovation, rehabilitation and development of affordable housing — and the boost in its coffers would allow the city to target its efforts to the residents whose housing needs remain unmet.

But those coffers won’t be large enough to support significant projects for years to come.

As with many municipal projects, the long-term solution looks viable, but it doesn’t solve the problems of today.

The can is half-full.

The council is scheduled to vote next week. Right now, this change is the best available option.