Texas Gov. Rick Perry Vetoes Low-Income Housing and Tenant Rights Bills

Last Friday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry vetoed several low-income housing bills recently passed by the Texas Legislature. How do those vetoes impact low-income housing statewide? Was one of the intentions of the vetoes to break up a key housing agency and re-allocate its functions to a nonprofit? Below are the highlights of some of the bills he vetoed, and how those vetoes impact low-income housing in the state of Texas.

1) Governor Perry vetoed a bill requiring landlords to give tenants a copy of their lease and prohibiting retaliation by landlords for tenant organizing.

Governor Perry’s public statement on this veto focused on the liability it created for non-complying landlords:“The litigation expenses incurred by landlords as a result of this bill could be significant, and would likely be passed on to other tenants through higher rents and fees.”

As a result of this veto, Texas tenants will continue to suffer from retaliation and continue to lack access to copies of their written lease.

2) Gov. Perry vetoed the bill continuing the existence of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA).

TDHCA is the primary home of low-income housing programs administered by the state, and has managed the state’s housing recovery programs following the 2005 (Katrina, Rita) and 2008 (Ike, Dolly) gulf-coast hurricanes.

Texas agencies are subject to a “sunset process” by which the agencies cease to exist unless pro-actively continued by the legislature after a review of the agency’s activities. This year was TDHCA’s turn to be reviewed and renewed. The legislature undertook an 18-month public, in-depth review of the TDHCA’s activities, the number one finding of which was “Lack of State Planning Delays Funding to Hard Hit Texas Communities Recovering From Major Disasters.” Responding to this need, the legislature add a clause to the agency continuation bill requiring the state to develop a long-term disaster recovery plan addressing post-disaster housing needs.

Gov. Perry’s public statement justifying the veto pointed at that clause, stating that “it would require the state to issue plans for expenditure of federal disaster recovery funds before federal agencies have announced the rules governing the expenditure of those funds.”

It seems unlikely that this public statement adequately describes that Governor’s primary motivation for the veto. The disaster planning requirement had been in the bill since the beginning of the public sunset process, and the governor never raised this concern in the public process. It is more likely the governor was dissatisfied with the failure of other efforts to break-up the housing agency and re-allocate its functions to a state-sponsored non-profit and other state agencies not-focused on low-income Texans.

Supporting this interpretation, it appears the legislature is not going to re-pass the Sunset bill without the offending planning clause, but will rather temporarily extend the agency’s existence for two years. This will create another sunset process in 2013, ensuring the Governor a legislative vehicle to break up the agency at that time. Additionally, since the veto the governor has used his executive power to move the Disaster Recovery activities out of TDHCA and to the state agency in charge of the management of state lands and mineral-right properties.

As a result of this veto, Texas will enter the next statewide disaster without a long-term plan for rebuilding housing and infrastructure in the state. The 2011 hurricane season started June 1.

3) Gov. Perry also vetoed two bills that allowed individuals charged with crimes to request expunction, or that their records be cleared, at the prosecutor’s discretion, if prosecutors have dropped the charges.

This is a housing-related bill because it impacts the ability of innocent people to pass a background check when applying to rent an apartment. A third expunction bill was allowed to stand, but that bill was significantly weaker and excluded thousands of individuals from accessing the expunction process.

As a result of this veto, innocent Texans will continue to excluded from rental housing in the state without access to a trial or prosecutor discretion to clear their name.

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