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Nowhere to live | Why Central Texans are still struggling to find housing

A healthy housing market has six months of available inventory. In the middle of 2021, some parts of Central Texas had less than two weeks.

TEMPLE, Texas — Sandra Combs had rented a duplex off Saulsbury Drive in Temple for several years, but in May of 2021, she was suddenly scrambling to find a new place to live.

A new landlord bought the property and wanted to renovate. She needed to leave in a month, but there was nowhere to go, she said. Combs said she soon found out there was no affordable housing anywhere in the Temple area.

“We couldn’t afford to pick up and move. And there was nothing really. Nowhere to go,” Combs said. "Anything that does come [available] you blink your eye and its gone."

Combs criteria for housing soon switched from "what is affordable?" to "what is available at all." She placed bids on 15 different properties but lost every time. Combs said other buyers were willing to pay cash or pay $10,000 or more over the asking price. She couldn't compete.

"My depression kicked up. My daughter was worried," Combs said. "I had actually started calling a couple of shelters. The women's shelters,"

A lack of Texas housing didn't become an issue overnight. Waco Housing Authority CEO Milet Hopping said the issue had been building for a long time.

"We have been experiencing a very significant affordable housing crisis and, from what I understand, nationally that's the norm.” Hopping said. "We've had people complaining that their search is very limited."

Texas A&M Real Estate Research Center data shows the Waco area housing market had just short of two months of inventory in July of 2020. By May of 2021, supply had dwindled to around half a month.

In the Temple and Killeen area, there had been around half a month of inventory or less since January. A healthy housing market has six months of inventory, according to the data.

People looking for affordable housing, in particular, were facing a two-fold problem:

The first, housing scarcity, which led to a rise in housing prices that some hopeful buyers were still willing to pay. In 2020, developers were focusing on building market-rate housing because that would generate the highest profit. There was not enough incentive to build affordable housing that Section 8 tenants, or other housing assistance program users, could take advantage of.

“With construction going on for market rate apartments, for condominiums, gentrification in neighborhoods, that caused a problem. And it added to a problem that was already starting to build,” Hopping said.

Story continues below.

Credit: Texas A&M University Real Estate Center
Graph that shows a visualization of the months of inventory available in the housing market in 2020 to 2021.

Then, COVID-19 struck, and many existing housing projects suddenly slowed to a crawl.

Developer Jimmy Torres, who works with Vista Real Estate, told 6 News earlier in the year that projects were falling six months behind because of a lack of materials.

“It's hard to find land. It's hard to find finished homes. You have just a shortage of everything,” Torres said while speaking to 6 News on a job site. "We bought this pipe six months ago, and that was three months before the project even started.”

Torres said the price of lumber had increased around 700 percent since the pandemic started and his company had to buy pipes, concrete structures and other materials ahead of time to try and keep projects from getting too far behind.

With affordable homes not available, and new market-rate homes still not finished, Hopping said their was simply not enough housing available anywhere. 

"The problem right now is there is just not enough housing for the people who live in Waco. Bottom line," Hopping said.

There doesn't seem to be a solution around the corner either. The City of Waco has hired consultant Mullin & Lonergan Associates to do a housing study in the Waco area to better understand the affordable housing issue. The study could provide suggestions to promote more affordable housing in the area but it will not be released until early in December. 

Central Texas Housing Consortium Executive Director Barbara B. Bozon told 6 News they had been working for years to build or acquire properties and then renovate them as needed so they could be used for affordable housing programs. They are working to acquire more properties, though that won't solve the lack of housing over all, she said.

Bozon said there are also new federal funds that have become available for affordable housing, but their organization is still waiting to see how those funds are distributed. 

The only sliver lining: The most recent reports from the Texas A&M Real Estate Research Center show housing inventory in Central Texas is slowing starting to increase once again.

Families who need housing right now, however, will need to keep searching and just hope they can get lucky. Fortunately, Combs did catch a break on her 16th bid after another potential buyer backed out. 

“They called me and said 'the other bid fell through… so they are willing to accept your offer,'” Combs said. 

Combs was able to use a loan from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to close on a south Temple home in July. She said the new landlord that bought her previous home had let her stay an extra month, though at an increased rate. She moved six days after closing. 

“I would have been one of those living with relatives or in a shelter. I am truly blessed. Truly blessed,” Combs said. 

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