This legislative session, the Lewisville Senior Living Challenges Coalition has been busy raising awareness of the dire situation they say Denton County seniors on fixed incomes are facing.
The coalition says that in this housing market, high rent prices are “holding renters like hostages,” “to the point that many low and fixed income persons have been priced out of the market and many more are facing evictions,” Nancy Sansom, a coordinator and spokesperson for the coalition, said in a Feb. 27 newsletter.
Last month, the coalition indicated two factors exacerbating the skyrocketing rents in Denton County:
- Working-class, low- and fixed-income seniors and persons with disabilities are being adversely affected with serious housing insecurity.
- An artificial intelligence program that recommends rent prices to more than 3.4 million apartments around the country and the world allegedly adversely affects the housing market and fuels the skyrocketing rent prices, according to an Oct. 15 ProPublica
Sansom pointed out that 20% of residents in Lewisville are seniors, and most, she said, are struggling to pay the high rent prices.
“This isn’t just happening to us in Lewisville,” Sansom said. “It’s happening all around the country.”
The coalition has sent several electronic letters to state congressional and local officials and made appearances each month at Lewisville City Council meetings to raise awareness and demand action.
They’ve also been in talks with state Sen. Tan Parker, who they say alerted them to two bills introduced in Legislature that seek, Sansom said, to “offer more protection to renters in this vastly inflated and unaffordable market.”
Parker, R-Flower Mound, represents Texas Senate District 12, which includes part of Lewisville and southern and western Denton County.
While the Texas economy is booming, Parker pointed out in a Thursday afternoon email to the Record-Chronicle that historic inflation is crushing people’s budgets across the country and in Texas, and one of the hardest-hit populations, he said, is seniors on fixed incomes.
“We must make certain that Texas continues to find pathways to address the needs of our most vulnerable populations, including finding common-sense legislative solutions to prevent surprise rent increases while also allowing for elderly residents to stay in their existing homes when possible,” Parker said.
“I am thankful for the Lewisville Senior Living Challenges Coalition’s advocacy as we work together to address local issues for area seniors while also improving housing outcomes for aging Texans across our state.”
Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, on Feb. 15 introduced Senate Bill 325 to encourage property managers to use a new tax credit for certain housing developments that offer low-income housing under this proposed subchapter and Chapter 233 of the Insurance Code.
According to the text of the bill, “The amount of credits awarded in connection with a qualified development over the credit period may not exceed the total federal tax credit awarded to the owner or owners of the qualified development over the 10-year federal tax credit period.”
SB 325 was referred to the finance committee.
Another bill, Sansom indicated in her late February newsletter, is still being developed and could limit when property owners can raise rents.
House Bill 673, introduced by Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, wasn’t mentioned but does seek to protect renters like Sansom and other seniors in the coalition. Filed on Feb. 23, it requires landlords to give written notice about delinquent rent and give tenants at least seven days to pay it before a landlord posts a notice to vacate, according to the text of the bill.
The bill was referred to the House Business and Industry Committee.
But the local coalition members aren’t just sitting back and waiting on legislators to pass bills that offer some kind of assistance or protection to thousands of older tenants they say are affected by this rental crisis.
Earlier this year, they met with Parker’s office to discuss this issue and said Parker and others would be meeting with representatives from Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to discuss the TDHCA Rent Chart, issued in May, and a possible readjustment to lower the average annual personal high income of $97,400 within Denton County “to realistically represent low and fixed incomes averaging less than $21,000 a year,” Sansom said.
Sansom also reached out to Gov. Greg Abbott to demand action on companies like RealPage Software in Richardson that offer what the coalition calls “Monopolistic Software Algorithms Automatic Intelligence.”
“Currently, because of this new technology, there are not many, if any, mandated business laws regulating their operations,” Sansom wrote in a Feb. 26 letter to Abbott. “This is causing chaos and despair among the working class, seniors on low and fixed incomes and multi-generational families, as their rents are skyrocketing. They are unable to pay these rents and are being evicted by the thousands across the country.”
RealPage has denied the allegations. Several lawsuits have been filed, as KTRK-TV in Houston reported in November. The Department of Justice also announced that it was opening an investigation into RealPage’s operations, according to a Nov. 23 ProPublica report.
“I interviewed experts that include antitrust lawyers and tenants who have been researching this,” ProPublica reporter Heather Vogell told KTRK. “The fear is because of the way this software is designed and how it’s used by so many, it’s allowing landlords to essentially all raise their prices at once.”
Sansom called the lack of regulations to keep this kind of software from affecting so many people a “wild west” show where the “investors are making just a fortune and driving seniors on fixed incomes out of their apartments and into the streets.”
Sansom raised this issue with Abbott in her late February letter to the governor and pointed out that their hope is that the governor will support them “in their efforts to remain in their homes, with fair and unbiased AI regulations to protect the most vulnerable populations in our State and the Country.”
The governor has yet to respond to the coalition’s letter.
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