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GROWING PAINS: 3 entities work to fill affordable housing gap in Highland Lakes

Mark Mayfield of the Texas Housing Foundation

Mark Mayfield stands on a slab in Marble Falls where the Texas Housing Foundation is building 60 rental units he calls 'workforce housing.' A percentage of those units will be set aside for senior citizens. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

Local leaders in providing affordable housing in the Highland Lakes don’t call it that anymore.

“I like to use the term ‘workforce housing’ because a lot of people have the wrong mindset about ‘affordable housing,’” said Mark Mayfield, CEO of the Texas Housing Foundation.

Dennis Hoover, president of Hamilton Valley Management in Burnet, agreed. 

“When you mention the name ‘affordable housing,’ depending on who’s listening, people can get a bad attitude about it,” he said. 

Whatever you call it, the demand for it has skyrocketed, unmatched by availability. 

“I’ve done this job 41 years,” said Billie Shelburn, executive director of the Burnet Housing Authority. “People are calling me every day looking for housing. There’s no vacancies, and all the apartments are full.” 

These three providers of workforce housing all represent different levels of subsidies.

The Texas Housing Foundation is a nonprofit that provides houses and apartments that rent for up to 80 percent of an area’s medium income. The foundation has housing units in small towns across the state with about 500 of those in Marble Falls. Another 60 units are currently under construction on Broadway. 

Hamilton Valley Management is a for-profit property development and management company that works with the tax credit programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. 

The company was founded in 1969 by the late John Hoover and is now run by his son, who manages 212 units in Burnet. Recently, Hamilton Valley Management has been buying old apartment buildings and remodeling them to modern standards, including making them energy efficient.

A government organization, the Burnet Housing Authority is the closest of these three organizations to the old-style affordable housing model. A public housing agency, it provides Section 8 subsidized housing vouchers for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled. It currently has a 40-unit, low-rent apartment complex and 327 vouchers to subsidize rents elsewhere. 

Shelburn said she is in the process of adding another 30 families to the voucher program, which requires a family to find a rental and apply for the money to help pay for it. They — and the property — have to be eligible for federal government funding. 

“They have 60 days to find an eligible property,” Shelburn said. “We’ve had to to extend that a bit because they are not finding any place to live.” 

The people looking for affordable housing work at the jails and in  restaurants, offices, day cares, retail shops, and grocery and convenience stores. They clean houses and mow lawns.

“They just don’t have the income to pay these rents,” Shelburn said. “Rents are higher than a single mom with an office job can pay.” 

The increase comes from people looking to move out of urban areas into smaller towns such as Marble Falls and Burnet. Both are feeling the pinch. 

“It’s overflow from Austin,” Hoover said. “Austin is an amazing economic generator, growing, growing, growing. It’s accelerating with all the big companies relocating to Austin and all the hiring they are doing and all the people trying to find housing.” 

Many of those people are looking to the Highland Lakes as a cheaper alternative to Austin. 

“Either they have a relative in this area, have visited it and fell in love, or just want to get close to Austin,” Shelburn said. 

According to Mayfield, the area has plenty of room to build and resources to help workers afford someplace in which they can be proud to live.

“That’s what motivates me,” Mayfield said. “And that’s why we named it the Texas Housing Foundation. It sounds better. Just because you don’t make a lot of money doesn’t mean you contribute less to society and you don’t deserve a nice place to live in a community you love.” 

All three are working overtime to help provide that home and the means to pay for it.

This story is part of a series on post-pandemic growth in the Highland Lakes. “Growing Pains” stories will be posted throughout June on DailyTrib.com. The series kicked off in the June edition of The Picayune Magazine. Other stories can be found herehere, and here.

suzanne@thepicayune.com