A teacher who earns an average income but still can’t afford a house. A waitress who spends more than half her income on rent. An older gentleman living on the streets because his social security check can’t keep up with housing costs.
These are just a few examples of the people affected by the housing shortage that is being felt nationwide. In Victoria, as in other cities, housing costs are going up while income has stagnated. We know that we have a problem with a lack of affordable housing, which is why the City of Victoria is taking steps to address this basic necessity.
One way that we’ve done this is by restructuring the Victoria Housing Finance Corporation in 2020. The VHFC issues bonds to help private developers finance housing projects. The developer is responsible for repaying the bonds. The VHFC is financially self-sufficient, earning developer fees and bond issuance fees that can be re-invested in affordable housing.
In 2021, the VHFC partnered with Realtex Development Corporation on Enchanted Gardens, which opened to the public in 2022. This apartment complex, which serves residents who make no more than 60% of Victoria’s area median income, was financed through VHFC bonds and through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs’ noncompetitive tax credit program.
A similar partnership led to the development of Odem Street Apartments, which is planned for the southside. Although The NRP Group has put the project on hold due to poor market conditions, the developer continues to monitor interest rates and other factors to determine when to move forward with the project.
The TDHCA also offers a competitive tax credit program that provides a bigger allocation than the noncompetitive program, but for many years, the program’s criteria favored large, densely populated cities. In 2020, City Manager Jesús Garza and I met with state leaders to lobby for changes to the program that would help developments in Victoria compete.
In 2021, the TDHCA updated its criteria to improve smaller cities’ chances of being chosen, which helped us to attract FishPond at Victoria and The Victorian, two apartments that serve residents over 55 who make up to 60% of Victoria’s median income.
Another program we’re attempting to launch is our infill housing program. Our goal is to acquire abandoned vacant lots, ideally in exchange for forgiveness of outstanding fines; then, we’ll partner with developers who will build affordably priced homes on the lots.
Although Victoria has no shortage of abandoned lots, many of them have clouded titles that complicate the acquisition process. We are working with a law firm to help verify the ownership of these properties so that we can make offers. This program aims to serve people in the “housing affordability gap”: those who can qualify for a mortgage but are having trouble finding a home in their price range.
We will continue to work with developers and other partners to promote affordable housing in a fiscally responsible manner. To learn more about our efforts, visit www.victoriatx.gov/housing.
Mike Etienne is one of the assistant city managers for the City of Victoria.