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As housing affordability decreases, city leaders seek solutions

Executive+director+of+Tiny+Hope+Village+and+founder+and+facilitator+of+the+Neal+Park+Potluck+Meals%2C+Dan+Kiniry%2C+at+a+sit-down+interview+in+his+home+Wednesday%2C+Sept.+13%2C+2023
Ashely Bautista

Executive director of Tiny Hope Village and founder and facilitator of the Neal Park Potluck Meals, Dan Kiniry, at a sit-down interview in his home Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023

Between 2010 and 2022 in Brazos County, the average house price increased by 85% while wages only increased by 50%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Federal Finance Housing Agency. There have been different approaches to tackling housing affordability locally.

Alyssa Halle-Schramm, the former long range planning administrator for the College Station City Council, said the rapid increase of students has changed the housing market in College Station. 

College Station Community Development Analyst David Brower, who is taking over Halle-Schramm’s role this year, said the City Council’s attempts to provide affordable housing is constrained by Texas-specific laws. 

“If you go to lots of other states, you, as a municipality, can say, ‘OK, you can develop in these areas … but a certain percentage of your units have to be affordable,’” Brower said. “You can require affordability in new development, [but] that is not allowed in Texas. In Texas, you can only incentivize affordability.”

However, Brower said it is still allowed to require developers to provide a certain number of affordable units for every story built over a chosen limit or to pay into a pool the city can use to build their own. Halle-Schramm said the implementation details would be worked on over the next year.

There are also major supply-side issues locally and nationally, Brower said. 

Brower said it’s especially difficult for Texas A&M’s workforce, as many of them are forced to live 30 minutes away from campus because that’s the only area where housing is affordable. 

“I could see [the] pros and cons of providing more student housing, but we’ve seen that it would really probably benefit [to provide employee housing],” Brower said. “One of the effects of the market is that people that work on campus can’t really afford to live.”

Dan Kiniry, the executive director of local nonprofit Tiny Hope Village, said A&M’s wages are another issue, especially since all dining, landscaping, building maintenance and janitorial jobs were outsourced to Compass Group USA in 2012. Kiniry said students could pressure A&M and Compass Group USA to increase their minimum wages, as a minimum wage of $15 to $20 per hour would transform the community.

Tiny Hope Village’s goal is to build a permanent supportive community for people who have experienced homelessness in Bryan-College Station. So far, they’ve built two homes, with another two under construction. 

“[The community is] designed for [people] to support each other, and it’s going to be organized so that folks who are living there are also doing work to help each other out and to run the community and to take ownership of it,” Kiniry said.

Kiniry said Tiny Hope Village was born out of a potluck meal that happens every Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Neal Park. Kiniry said he encourages students to join to get to know people who are experiencing or who have experienced homelessness. Eating together and sharing a conversation is a good way of treating someone as an equal, which can be important for those often ostracized from society, he said.

Kiniry said the nonprofit is needed because actual housing needs to be a priority before further support can be given. 

“The Brazos Valley Council of Government issues thousands of vouchers, so low-income households can use that voucher to rent a unit that accepts that voucher to rent a place,” Brower said. “One of the really difficult things is [that] our voucher program is full.” 

Brower said once someone does obtain a housing voucher after overcoming the waiting list, they are not automatically guaranteed a place to live. 

“There are some states where it is illegal not to accept a housing voucher,” Brower said. “But in Texas, you don’t have to accept a voucher, so there’s a lot of units that, if they can rent their units without accepting one, they won’t.” 

Kiniry said mental illness can be both a cause and an effect of homelessness, giving one example of someone he worked with. 

“He got through the waiting list of [Housing and Urban Development, or HUD], and he got into an apartment, but because of his mental disability, he wasn’t able to maintain the HUD rules,” Kiniry said. “He would let people come live with him, and, if the HUD catches you doing that, then they stop funding you.”

Halle-Schramm said their plan includes the gradual introduction of middle housing to the area, which mixes different types of residences together with the aim of offering benefits, such as walkability, dealing with evolving housing demand and improving neighborhood diversity. 

“If we had been working on middle housing policies a decade ago, 15 years ago, as the university started doing the 25 by 25 program and really expanding … it wouldn’t have been so much of either just single family or just large apartment complexes,” Halle-Schramm said.  “We could have had this, missing middle is what it’s usually called in the planning world, this middle type of development that we’re starting to have and we’re going to have in the near future.”

Kiniry said that just after finishing college, he let a homeless individual live with him for over a year, and it changed both of their lives. 

“It’s a whole education of its own to try and help somebody so fundamentally, and see what it’s like,” Kiniry said.

Kiniry said selling homes for as much as we can get can be an action of complicity in a system that prevents affordable housing. 

“[Students] can take space where they’re living and rent it out for cheap to somebody,” Kiniry said. “ … it can be like, ‘I’m going to rent out a room here for $200 or $300 to somebody with a disability check.’”

Kiniry said if a student wants to open their home to someone who is homeless, they need to have an upfront conversation about the expectations for living there.

Halle-Schramm said there are also opportunities for students to provide their opinions to the city council and that they get excited when students engage with them.

“I think students often see themselves here for a temporary amount of time, but you’re a resident here too,” Halle-Schramm said. “Especially once you register to vote in the chapel’s residence here, you can serve on boards and commissions, you can come to public meetings.”

Brower highlighted the importance of students contributing to the community.

“[Students are] 40% of our population,” Brower said. “We’d love for [them] to participate.”

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