If you live in Denton, you likely know that access to affordable and stable housing is a significant issue that profoundly impacts people across our community. At our agency, we see clients living at the intersection of homelessness and domestic violence who are in dire need of the services provided by our Transitional Housing Program. To better understand how our city is addressing the housing crisis, we attended The Affordable Housing Panel, which took place on September 5th at CoServ’s headquarters in Corinth. Check out our insights into what we learned.
What the Experts Said
Many different organizations attended the panel, each offering a unique perspective on the affordable housing situation in Denton County. Sheryl English, a chair of the Denton Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, discussed Denton Housing Authority’s limitations in providing housing vouchers to citizens in need. English noted that the waitlist for housing vouchers stands at a long two years and that they are currently not accepting new additions at this time. English also spoke to the crucial difference between the Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) North Texas and the Public Housing program. Public Housing is a government-funded and run agency that we do not have in Denton.
On the other hand, DHA funding comes from the government; however, it is not a government entity. In discussing what our city is doing to encourage building more affordable housing, Dani Shaw, Community Development Manager for the City of Denton, explained the different tax and building incentives that the city could offer builders, such as flexibility with city codes during construction. If the City of Denton can provide different ways that contractors can cut costs, then they are more likely to offer affordable housing in the community.
How the housing crisis impacts low-income individuals in Denton
Much of the focus of the panel discussion centered around how the community can further advocate for affordable housing on the city and county levels. As it currently stands, there is not enough housing for the city of Denton or for Denton County that is accessible for individuals and families with a lower income. In their 2019 Out of Reach study, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition found that to afford a 2-bedroom unit, without paying more than 30% of their income, a person needs to make $20.29 an hour. Individuals not making that much might find themselves cutting costs in other areas which can impact their health or wellbeing, leading to housing instability and homelessness. Adults might keep an average of two full-time jobs or more to afford a two-bedroom home, according to the same study.
Victims of domestic abuse are often hit hardest
The panel did more than contextualize the need for more affordable housing; they also took time to discuss some of the challenges to the development of affordable housing and the ways in which people can get involved in making that possible. This has an adverse impact on our clients.
If you consider that 99% of domestic violence victims also experience economic abuse, then it becomes easier to understand why access to stable housing is a vital component to the safety of our clients — and often the most challenging barrier to their success.
Often, victims of domestic abuse can experience discrimination in housing and development. Affordable housing (or workplace housing, as Dr. Laura Keyes encouraged us to call it) tends to be met with community pushback. It is a phenomenon referred to as “Not in My Backyard” or NIMBY-ism. There is a harmful misconception that people living in low-income housing will bring issues, such as drug or alcohol addiction, domestic violence, and higher unemployment rates in the area, which people fear will drive down property values and increase crime rates. Often, once residents find that zoning for low-income housing is near their neighborhood, lobbying against construction begins.
It’s time for the community to speak up
But the stigma is misguided, notes the panelists. The people who primarily need workforce housing are average Americans — teachers, first responders, or retail workers. It’s time for community members to push back and help address some of those misconceptions. To make matters worse, the state of Texas does not have laws that protect from income discrimination, allowing properties to turn people away who do not meet strict income restrictions or who are working with housing programs, such as Section 8. The lack of accessibility severely limits the places that prospective tenants can access or, worse, can prevent them from accessing housing at all.
Whether you call it workplace housing or affordable housing, it is critical to remember that access to a stable place to live is a significant issue that affects people across North Texas. Moreover, affordable housing is crucial to the success of the clients we serve every day at Denton County Friends of the Family. You can get involved by contacting your City Council representative, educating yourself on the issue, and supporting our Transitional Housing Program. Denton, this issue is in your backyard — and it impacts every single one of us. We cannot afford to look the other way.
Learn more about Denton County Friends of the Family’s Transitional Housing Program at https://www.dcfof.org/transitional-housing-program
Written by Denton County Friends of the Family’s Victoria Schofield, Housing Navigator and McKenna Johnson, Transitional Housing Intern