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Explainer: Zim’s bill on housing scoring heads to State Lege Council

Monday, March 2, 2015 by Michael Kanin

The Explainer offers a closer look at stories we have been following. This week, Don Zimmerman’s ongoing effort to change the way federal housing subsidies are awarded.

City Council Member Don Zimmerman has displayed a certain … distaste for subsidized housing. Before his election to Council, Zimmerman used a rape whistle and the phrase “no means no” as he argued against the 2013 passage of a set of affordable housing bonds pitched by advocates in the wake of a defeat in 2012. On Council, he’s engaged in a bit of leaping to argue that the 2013 bonds shouldn’t have really passed — more people voted against the bonds in 2012 than for it in 2013, his logic goes.

Jo Clifton reported all of that as part of our coverage of CM Zim’s recent attempts to sink a Foundation Communities project called Cardinal Point. He’s now taken a key point of that argument — that affordable housing should be a localized decision — and turned it over in the form of a rough draft of a bill to the State Legislative Council, the Texas body charged with making bills ready for action.

Affordable housing efforts in search of federal housing dollars go through a complex — and sometimes confusing — process. It all ends for each project in a tabulation of points based on criteria determined by the State of Texas as the grantor on behalf of the federal government.

If he can find someone to carry it, CM Zimmerman’s bill would change the scoring matrix for would-be affordable housing projects seeking federal dollars. He would, in his words (delivered via the Council’s message board), put local officials’ scoring input on par with that of state representatives.

“We’ve had conversations with lawmakers who say State Senators, who formerly affected scoring, asked to be removed from having that role; other political interests tried to get State Reps removed, but the State Reps kept their authority. Rep. Jason Isaac was heavily involved in this with some draft legislation two years ago,” Zimmerman wrote on the message board.

“Seeing that this is a politically contentious item,” he continued, “it would make sense for State Reps to want this decision making moved closer to the neighborhoods, and especially moved closer to where taxpayer dollars are being allocated — like at [City Council].”

Zimmerman’s changes, according to a resolution drafted for the message board but never passed at Council, would define local officials as “City Council Members, County Commissioners, and Board Members of MUDs.” Zimmerman is, of course, a former MUD board member.

However, CM Zim’s change would also appear to afford said local officials effective veto power over any project within their district lines.

The impetus, he argues, goes back to Cardinal Point. “[I]n the case of the Cardinal Point housing project … we found that the vast majority of constituents strongly opposed to the project are represented by State Rep. Paul Workman; however, the project property itself, on the other side of 2222 from River Place, is in State Rep. Donna Howard’s District,” he writes. “Rep. Workman’s office (which represents River Place constituents) correctly points out that they can’t issue any letter regarding the project scoring. Rep. Howard’s office could, but that office does not represent the River Place constituents.”

Zimmerman’s proposed (but not voted on, presumably for lack of the required co-sponsors) resolution “urge[s] the 84th Texas Legislature to enact” his proposed changes.

All of that is drawn from a message board conversation begun by Zimmerman on Feb. 9. The only non-Zimmerman response in the thread belongs to Council Member Ann Kitchen, who on Feb. 13 asked Zimmerman to “point [her] to the section of the state law that would need to be changed.” Zimmerman obliged in two separate answers typed on Feb. 13.

Then, on Feb. 27, Zimmerman bumped the thread with an update announcing that the bill was “submitted for drafting by the legislative Council.” The Legislative Council may, however, choose to prioritize bills that have sponsors.

Zimmerman did not return a call asking whether his bill had a sponsor. That it did not come from Council as a whole — despite Zimmerman calling it “our” bill in his message board thread — may discourage even sympathetic state lawmakers from getting behind the action. Whatever the case, Zimmerman has until March 13 to get his bill filed. Unless he decides to bracket the bill as an Austin-only offering — a move that would get around that deadline.

Stay tuned.

 

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