Public Comment — TDHCA regarding 2017 State of Texas Low Income Housing Plan and Annual Report

Public Policy Input — 2017

TCDD Letterhead

2017 State of Texas Low Income Housing
Plan and Annual Report:
Public Comment

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) Draft 2017 State of Texas Low Income Housing Plan and Annual Report (SLIHP).1 The Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) is established by state and federal law and is governed by 27 board members, appointed by the Governor, 60% of whom are individuals with developmental disabilities or family members of individuals with disabilities. TCDD’s purpose in law is to encourage policy change so that people with disabilities have opportunities to be fully included in their communities and exercise control over their own lives.

Of the almost 27 million people living in Texas, an estimated 3.4 million have disabilities.2 Although they make up almost 13% of the population, Texans with disabilities account for just 6.2% (820,000) of the state’s labor force. For those who find work, employment is much more likely to be part-time and wages on average are significantly lower than for people without disabilities. TDHCA classifies income levels of $16,000 or less per year, or 0-30% of the Texas Annual Median Family Income (AMFI), as being “extremely low income.”

Nearly two percent of adult Texans with disabilities have developmental disabilities, which occur before the age of 22, are chronic and severe, and which significantly limit three or more major life activities. People with developmental disabilities often rely on federal Social Security benefits for health care services and a basic income. These benefits amount to just 16% or less of AMFI, placing individuals with developmental disabilities in the lower half of the “extremely low income” measure.

TDHCA’s 2017 Draft Plan states, “Since many persons with disabilities and older Texans live on fixed incomes, such as Supplemental Security Income, another recognized need is deeply affordable rents.” However, the policy driven actions reported by TDHCA responsive to this statement include only one TDHCA program that targets people with incomes below 30% AMFI. This program, Section 811 Project Rental Assistance, is targeted to individuals with severe disabilities who wish to leave institutions and transition into community settings, and also includes target populations of people with serious mental illness and children transitioning out of the foster care system. Advocates support this critical program and maintain that its linkage of affordable housing to voluntary services and supports assists the lowest-income people with significant, long-term disabilities to live independently in the community. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded the maximum grant award amounts to TDHCA, which are intended to (at maximum participation) provide rental units and supports to between 500 and 700 individuals below 30% AMFI. For all other extremely low income people with disabilities, the only TDHCA alternatives open to 30% of less AMFI are programs targeting homelessness: the Homeless Housing and Services Program and the Emergency Solutions Grant Program.

Failure to provide housing that is affordable to people with disabilities or to the elderly who rely on federal assistance, such as Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or Supplement Security Income (SSI), results in reduced safety or displacement from the community. Many individuals who are unable to secure adequate housing seek shelter in unlicensed boarding homes, which are known for financial exploitation and abuse. Reports of abuse and exploitation within these settings recently led Texas legislators to study the factors surrounding these unlicensed facilities as an interim charge.

TDHCA should do more than recognize the continuing unmet need for deeply affordable housing in their annual SLIHP.

Goal 1 for TDHCA, page 217, is to increase and preserve the availability of affordable housing for people with “very low” (30-60% AMFI), “low” (61-80% AMFI), and “moderate” (80% and above AMFI) income levels. People in the extremely low income category (0-30% AMFI) are not included.

  • Recommendation: TDHCA should develop an additional target income category between 0 and 110% of the level of SSI. Setting a threshold below “extremely low” will allow TDHCA to monitor, strategize, and allocate resources specifically for a group of Texans who consistently have the greatest needs for housing and related supports.

Goal 3 for TDHCA, page 220, seeks to “improve living conditions for the poor and homeless and reduce the cost of home energy for very low-income Texans.” Under this goal, TDHCA intends to coordinate services between local organizations and statewide energy assistance programs to minimize the burden of fluctuating utility and rental payments for those living on fixed incomes.

  • Recommendation: TDHCA should include those with the greatest needs, people with income levels classified as “extremely low income”, within their efforts to improve living conditions through rental and energy assistance.

Rider 5(a) of the General Appropriations Act of 2015 instructs TDHCA to target its housing finance programs resources for assistance to extremely low-income households. TDHCA programs may be allocating additional resources to extremely low-income populations, but the funds are not going to extremely low-income households as reflected in participation rates of individuals and households with “worst case” housing needs. This may reflect problems with allocating resources mainly for the small number who are transitioning from an institution to a community setting, as is the case under the Section 811 Project Rental Assistance program, and not more generally for extremely low-income people with disabilities who are not currently in institutions.

  • Recommendation: TDHCA should increase the effective allocation of resources to reflect greater participation of extremely low-income individuals and households in mainstream community-integrated housing.

Additional improvements to TDHCA goals:

  • Recommendation: Include a goal to dedicate expected National Housing Trust Funds to establish community-integrated accessible housing for individuals who must rely on fixed Social Security income or incomes no greater than 20% AMFI.
  • Recommendation: Include a goal to encourage and provide incentives to employ people with disabilities in building, rehabilitating, or managing TDHCA housing programs in support of the Texas Employment First Policy for working age Texans adopted by the 83rd Texas Legislature (2013).
  • Recommendation: Include a goal to promote innovative approaches that advance community-integrated housing opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and which may be funded through matching general revenue and federal funding.

The past two state budgets appropriated $10.9 million in general revenue to local mental health authorities (LMHAs) for up to 12 months of rental assistance for people with mental illness who are homeless or approaching homelessness. Through coordination between TDHCA and the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the LMHAs became Tenant-Based Rental Assistance administrators to support individuals in subsidized housing while waiting for permanent housing subsidies. TDHCA should direct funding to replicate this subsidy for other persons with disabilities who have extremely low incomes who are at risk for homelessness. This subsidy program would further reduce the state’s reliance on institutional residential settings, which consume disproportionate shares of limited public resources.

Thank you for your work to advance accessible, affordable, and integrated housing for Texans with and without disabilities.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Meghan Regis, LMSW
Public Policy Specialist
Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities

Footnotes


  1. Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. “Draft 2017 State of Texas Low Income Housing Plan and Annual Report”. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from www.tdhca.state.tx.us/housing-center/docs/17-SLIHP-Draft.pdf. 
  2. Texas Workforce Investment Council. “People with Disabilities: A Texas Profile” June 2016 Update. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from gov.texas.gov/files/twic/Disabilities_Profile.pdf.