Texas is one of only two states where landlords are legally allowed to turn away Section 8 voucher-holders as of November of last year, according to the Texas Tribune. The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) federal program is locally administered to “assist very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.”
The first effort to repeal the state law, which allows discrimination against voucher-holders, stalled this session as the bills died in the House Committee on Urban Affairs, chaired by State Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Richardson).
According to a staffer of one of the bill’s authors, State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-San Antonio), the bill was prompted by a September HUD study on landlord acceptance of housing choice vouchers. The study showed a 78 percent denial rate for voucher-holders seeking housing in Fort Worth alone.
After cities like Austin and Dallas passed local ordinances to include Section 8 voucher-holders as a protected class in 2014, lobbyists for the landlords made pre-empting such policies a top legislative priority in the 2015 legislative session. The current law allowing voucher-holder discrimination in housing came about as a result.
Legislators who authored and sponsored the 2015 bill also received campaign funds from the apartment industry. This included Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), the author, who received a check of $5,000 in the fall prior to the 2015 session, and co-author and former Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) who received $27,500 from apartment associations in 2014.
Housing Advocate Daniel Amendariz from the Austin Tenants’ Council, which serves tenants that receive Section 8, told Reform Austin, “it’s clear to us… that [the law] increases the likelihood that folks with county or city [Section 8] vouchers could be denied housing.”
He went on to say that voucher-holders end up being locked out of desirable neighborhoods in favor of high poverty, high-crime neighborhoods, often owned by the same landlords who denied them housing in or near city centers.
In a session where school finance and property taxes received the most attention, issues like affordable housing and meeting the challenge of rising costs of living in a booming economy fell to the wayside. Chair Chen Button was asked in a recent Texas Tribune event about solutions to affordable housing. Her response was meandering and did not answer the question, and ended with Chen deflecting to her colleagues.
Based on this response, it’s not clear if Chair Chen Button is knowledgeable about the issue or simply chose not to take a stance. It could explain why there was little movement on affordable housing this session, or why bills like HB 2187 and HB 1257 did not even receive a hearing.
Twelve bills on affordable housing passed the Urban Affairs Committee, three of which became law. This includes Button’s own bill making letters from House members on applications for low-income housing tax credits as optional for the scoring system and a bill allowing low income housing tax credits for housing developments within two miles of other affordable housing developments in disaster affected areas.
According to campaign finance records, Chen Button received $4,500 in campaign funds from apartment associations since 2017.
At the time this article was published, Button’s office had not responded to a request for comment.