The Little Agency That Could

August 3, 2009
The Little Agency That Could

Like the little engine that could, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs has a large mountain to climb — about $1 billion in federal stimulus money spread over seven (very) different programs.

The common theme is helping low-income Texans with housing and, by extension, adding jobs with the construction, repair and weatherization of residences.

The agency, with about 300 employees, will add 30 or 40 workers over the life of the stimulus programs to help push the federal windfall out the door.

A quick recap of the programs:

$327 million has been allocated to weatherize at least 40,000 homes over the next three years. Before the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, the agency spent about $13 million annually to weatherize 4,000 to 5,000 homes.

Up to $6,500 can be spent weatherizing a household.

To manage such a huge increase, the agency is sending about $180 million through its 34 nonprofits with experience overseeing the weatherization of homes. The nonprofits put the contractors and homeowners together. (Other service providers are being trained to supplement the work of the 34 nonprofits.)

Another $100 million is going to cities with populations of more than 75,000 that have weatherization programs. Smaller cities and nonprofits can compete for a $7.5 million program.

First-time homebuyers
Some homebuyers may struggle to come up with the down payment necessary to buy their first home. The agency has $7.5 million to advance money against the existing $8,000 income tax credit. More than 900 families, who file before the Dec. 1 deadline, could be helped.

Tax credits for developers
There are two programs with a combined $520 million to jumpstart the market for affordable housing. Before the recession, developers would sell their tax credits to investors for cash flow. The government is now stepping in for jittery investors who have largely abandoned that market. The second program allows the exchange of tax credits for grants.

Neighborhood stabilization
This program allows communities to buy foreclosed residences and sell them to low-income Texans. It splits $102 million between targeted counties. The state agency is also applying to U.S. Housing and Urban Development for another $110 million for a second program.

Homeless prevention
Local governments and nonprofits can apply for $41 million to prevent homelessness with rental assistance and other aid.

Brooke Boston, who worked at the state agency for a decade, recently returned as deputy executive director of community based programs.

The recovery money is a boon, she says. It’s also a challenge to manage the disbursements quickly but effectively.

"Our staff morale is higher than ever," Boston says. "People are excited to be part of something big."

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