As the city of Plano grapples with the five percent of its land that’s left for development, the need for affordable housing in the area becomes more apparent.
At Coit Road and McDermott Road, the single-family 40-unit project entitled Veranda Townhomes will be available to families making 60 percent below the area’s median income, according to a May 2018 press release. Construction should end by May 2020, ahead of its original December 2020 date.
As part of a program with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, four units are set aside for persons with a disability, Jean Brown, executive director with the Plano Housing Corp. reported. The department waiting list exceeded 40 applicants after opening, Brown reported. A very small amount of affordable housing is available in the county for people with a disability, she said.
And that’s not the only housing difficulty the area is facing.
“We have an affordable housing crisis in north Texas,” Brown says to me in late May 2019. “Those of us that work in this space, we’re doing the best we can, but we’re not even coming close to meeting the need.”
The corporation, a nonprofit, owns the townhome project and works to provide opportunities for low or moderate-income housing while maintaining the neighborhood stability and culture, according to the organization’s website.
While Veranda Townhomes is a single-family housing project, most affordable housing is multifamily, according to Brown. But a community pushback to the idea of multifamily housing is making it hard to meet housing needs in the county.
While massive population growth isn’t unique to Plano, the city is presented with a distinctive housing hurdle. About five percent of Plano’s land is left for development, making decisions for how to develop that land a contentious point.
“Plano is landlocked,” Brown says. “Where [cities like] McKinney, Frisco—they have a lot of land that can still be developed.”
During the most recent City Council elections, candidates Lily Bao and Shelby Williams ran with platforms that supported caution in the rate of building multifamily housing. Both said they want to maintain the suburban nature of the city and to reduce traffic levels and related increasing traffic congestion to urbanization, or an increasing population density, according to the candidates’ websites. Williams stated in another publication Q&A that the high rent in the multi-family housing options under development did not provide a solution to the need for affordable housing. The candidates will be vying for council seats in a general runoff election on June 8.
A housing trends study published by the city in November 2018 found that while Plano’s economic growth, including job opportunities and climbing wages, had greatly increased over the years, residential growth was slower.
This put pressure on the housing market, resulting in fewer “starter homes” or affordable homes for younger residents. According to the report, that deficit would potentially cause them to leave the city, and potentially cause employers to follow.
According to the report, the cost of housing also rapidly increased compared to income. In 2017, a family earning a median household income in Plano came about $20,000 short of affording a median-priced house in the city. This was not the case in 2001.
A need for housing and support
Earnest Burke heads the Plano Housing Authority, which is authorized to help up to 908 families with vouchers through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It also owns some units, which allows it to place applicants there directly.
Burke said he is thankful for the city’s flexibility in addressing housing needs, and he sees the demand for affordable housing every week at work.
On July 8, 2013, the authority opened its waiting lists for obtaining housing vouchers. Within six hours, it had 11,000 applications. Burke closed the list so the agency could work to get to a “rational” number. As of 2019, about 9,000 applicants remain waiting to start the three- to four-year process of finding housing in the area and obtaining a voucher.
“It’s pretty simple,” Burke says. “There are a lot of people who are in distress and they need housing and support.”
Burke said the authority works with nonprofit organizations to help applicants with needs in between applying, waiting and finding a home. “Unfortunately, we can’t solve it all and do it all in one big swoop. But we’re trying our best to connect people to those services that may provide them some relief.”
Many applicants do find housing, and help from city efforts such as the federally funded First Time Homebuyers Assistance and Educational program, providing housing down payments and closing costs to low- and moderate-income households.
“I read in the paper that people don’t want more affordable housing, but it’s not [realistic] to have that kind of mindset,” Burke says. “You see so many people on a weekly basis, that are in severe need.”
The voucher waiting list will probably reopen next year, and Burke expects a similar flood of applicants, as he saw in 2013.
Driving out congestion
Beyond general housing patterns, the city’s 2018 study also found that more commuters going to Plano for a job are traveling greater distances than before.
Between 2002 and 2015, the number of “imported” jobs, or jobs in Plano held by non-residents, jumped from about 2,000 to 59,000, according to the 2018 study. Most jobs in the city are concentrated in specific areas, which would also contribute to increased road congestion there.
“High density urbanization has dramatically increased traffic and caused further congestion, and Plano citizens are justifiably concerned about it,” Bao states on her campaign website.
City Planning Director Christina Day says providing affordable housing in the community would make an impact on the whole community’s quality of life; specifically, it would ease transportation congestion in the city.
“If we can provide affordable housing, it does help improve the transportation situation in our community,” Day explains. “Because if people have to drive a long distance to get into the jobs here in Plano, it makes a significant impact on the quality of the commute time for everyone.”
According to the report, the lack of local labor would lead businesses to employ people from further away. Consider entry-level jobs, or those in customer service, or at the restaurants lining Legacy West. If the people working in Plano can’t afford to live in Plano, they’re going to have to commute longer distances, meaning more people are spending more time on the roads. Eventually, those businesses will relocate.
“As Plano continues to evolve, it will need to consider how land uses and housing supply should reflect a community’s preferences for transit and transportation access, neighborhood design, community infrastructure and civic amenities,” the report states.
The solution to making housing in Plano more affordable remains to be seen.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” Brown says.
More tax-credit affordable development would be a possible solution, in addition to political and community support. The city cites multiple programs, local projects that help residents update and repair their homes, as well as state- and federally funded programs that waive development costs for certain construction projects.
“Until we have housing of all types and incomes, we’re not creating a thriving community,” Brown says. “We’re making it very difficult for the working class to live close to where the great jobs are.”