HOUSTON — Houston’s mayor is calling for housing policy reforms in response to a Houston Chronicle investigation that found the city’s housing agency has struggled with record-keeping and meeting its goals.

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday called for the city to define what “affordable” housing means and take various other steps, the newspaper reported (http://bit.ly/2q010oX ). Among them, he said the city should closely monitor subsidies to ensure that properties remain affordable for at least 15 years, provide more detailed annual financial reports for the city’s housing fund, work more quickly build affordable housing and commit to better maintain affordable housing properties.

“We’ll provide the necessary tracking and the accountability and the reporting, and done on an annual basis,” Turner said. “I cannot rebuild City Hall overnight … but I am certainly responsible for what we do as we move forward.”

The newspaper found that while Houston collected $130 million in local taxes over the last decade for the affordable housing fund, fewer than 500 homes remain tied to city subsidy rules. Nearly half of the $96 million spent since 2007 went to expenses such as administrative fees or federal fines. Poor record-keeping led officials to discover the city had $46 million available for new projects, which was millions more than they thought was available.

One of the mayor’s main goals of defining affordability may be difficult, said Councilman David Robinson.

“Affordability, of course, is relative,” Robinson said. “What you and I can afford is different than those homeless people on the street.”

Mary Lawler is the executive director of the affordable housing group Avenue Community Development Corp. She said housing is generally considered affordable if it costs 30 percent or less of a family’s income, but says that figure may not be appropriate because of Houston’s high transportation costs.

Turner didn’t give a specific definition of affordability on Wednesday, but said the city needs to consider how best to meet people’s specific needs.


Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com