Biden plan allocates billions for affordable housing. What does it mean for Fort Worth?

·4 min read

A spending plan from President Joe Biden Thursday includes billions of dollars to improve affordable housing nationwide — but it could take months or years for Fort Worth residents to see the effects of the proposal if it becomes law.

The plan from the White House allocates $150 billion to build, rehabilitate and improve more than 1 million affordable homes. It also expands rental assistance for hundreds of thousands of families and invests $65 billion to preserve public housing.

“This would be the most significant single investment in quality, stable, affordable homes for the country’s lowest-income people in history,” Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition said in a statement Thursday.

But it remains unknown to what extent — or when — Fort Worth and Tarrant County would benefit from the proposal.

The plan still has a long way to go before it’s approved in Washington. Biden proposed the initiatives as part of a $1.75 trillion budget and tax package that is likely to take weeks or months before final action.

The proposal accounts for $25 billion for rental assistance. Some will go toward Housing Choice Vouchers, an initiative from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides rental assistance to very low-income families.

Tarrant County residents have struggled to obtain housing vouchers for years, said Wayne Pollard, the director of the county’s Housing Assistance Office.

Since 2017, the county has been unable to open the wait list to its Housing Choice Voucher program to all eligible families, Pollard said. The county’s wait list stands at 10,000 families.

If Congress agrees to the plan, Tarrant County may not see the effects of the voucher expansion until early spring, Pollard said. The county also does not know what its allocation of the voucher expansion would be — it is up to the federal government to develop a formula on how the vouchers will be distributed, he said.

The voucher expansion also does not solve all housing affordability issues in Tarrant County.

“We have limited housing in our area — even if we have X number of vouchers, that doesn’t mean everybody is going to find units immediately,” Pollard said.

A need for affordable housing

For the past three to four years, the housing market in Tarrant County has been “hot,” Pollard said, meaning limited housing availability and high prices. Right now, it can take 90 to 120 days for families eligible for the vouchers to find units in the county.

Biden’s proposal would increase the number of affordable housing units nationwide.

The proposal includes $15 billion to create or preserve more than 150,000 rental homes for extremely low income households. The Housing Coalition estimated Texas would receive just over $946 million of these funds.

A 2019 Housing Coalition report found the Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington areas had around 190,000 extremely low income renter households but about 40,000 affordable and available rental homes.

“This Build Back Better Bill is very important for our families,” Pollard said. “We need places for families to go … There’s not a lot of affordable housing in North Texas.”

But it would also take time to build these units, Pollard said. He estimated building new affordable housing properties could take two to three years.

“You need labor to get this work done as well,” Pollard said. “Everything is dependent on something else.”

The White House proposal comes after months of infighting among Democrats on what social programs to include in their spending bill. The proposal is a significantly pared down version of a bill proposed earlier this year, with several initiatives — including free community college and paid family leave — no longer included.

Other initiatives that made it into the White House proposal are:

A one-year extension of the child tax credit, which provides tax breaks mostly to households filing jointly earning up to $150,000 annually and single parents earning up to $75,000.

Universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds with funding to continue the program for six years.

An expansion of Medicare to cover the cost of hearing care.

An expansion of Medicaid coverage to lower premium costs for eligible residents in states, including Texas, that have not expanded Medicaid since the Affordable Care Act.

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