November 6, 2022


Workforce Housing Summit panel members, from left, Kelly Moreno, Workforce Solutions; Georgianne Hewitt, The Wesleyan; Debbie Hoffman, Habitat for Humanity Williamson County; and Rita Healey speak at the Sheraton Austin Georgetown Hotel. Katherine Anthony

Workforce Housing Summit panel members, from left, Kelly Moreno, Workforce Solutions; Georgianne Hewitt, The Wesleyan; Debbie Hoffman, Habitat for Humanity Williamson County; and Rita Healey speak at the Sheraton Austin Georgetown Hotel. Katherine Anthony

 

Williamson County 2021 stats

Median Family Income $104,621
Median Home Price $440,000
Existing Subsidized Housing Total Units 5,632
Planned Subsidized Housing Units 1,625
Poverty Rate  6.1%
Individuals Below Poverty 34,242
Home Owners 70%
Renters 30%

Source: Homeworks Austin www.homeworksaustin.org

Housing summit explores needs, options for affordable housing

By KATHERINE ANTHONY

A panel of large Georgetown employers, a housing provider and a provider of workforce development services agreed a lack of affordable housing impacts area business and the quality of life. 

The group spoke at the October 29 Workforce Housing Summit, sponsored by the Georgetown Housing Initiative. 

The summit, held at First United United Methodist Church, was attended by about 40 individuals representing business, government and social service sectors of the community.

A recent housing analysis of the five-county Central Texas area by Austin Works — a nonprofit promoting affordable housing in the five-county area of Central Texas — shows that Williamson County housing prices increased more than in any other part of the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area from 2020 to 2021. Median home sale prices increased by $133,000, a 43.3 percent increase, and average rents jumped by 31.6 percent, more than $367 in monthly rent. Despite containing 26 percent of the region’s population, only 11 percent of the region’s subsidized affordable housing is in Williamson County. Counties surveyed were Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson.

Summit panelists were Georgianne Hewitt, vice president of The Wesleyan; Rita Healey, general manager of the Sheraton Austin Georgetown Hotel; Debbie Hoffman, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Williamson County; and Kelly Moreno, director of community engagement, Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area.

Affordable housing is defined as housing on which the occupant is paying no more than 30 percent of gross income for housing costs, including utilities, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Our ability to care for Georgetown’s aging population may be limited if we don’t address workforce housing,” Ms. Hewitt said.

The Wesleyan provides independent and assisted living services, memory and hospice care, home-based care and skilled nursing/rehab services to area seniors.

Almost 29 percent of Georgetown residents are over age 65 — more than triple that of neighboring communities such as Round Rock with 9.1 percent and Leander with 8.5 percent, Ms. Hewitt explained. 

“A silver tsunami is here,” she said. “It is changing our community. The demand for workers in this sector of arguing services will increase.”

Ms. Hewitt said the number of individuals over age 85 in the U.S. — 6.6 million in 2019 — will increase to 14.4 million by 2040.

“Caring for these people will impact communities in employment, housing, transportation, medical care and commerce,” she said. 

Ms. Hewitt said 70 percent of Wesleyan employees live outside of Georgetown because it’s not affordable to live in the city.

“These are people who take care of people,” she said. “If we have short staff in a facility, it’s difficult to ask an employee who lives in Killeen to come in to fill a spot. 

“Our ability to care for an aging population may be limited if we don’t address workforce housing.”

The Sheraton’s Rita Healey concurred. 

“Workforce is extremely important,” she said. “If employees can’t afford to live where they work, it creates a huge problem.

“If I pay all of my frontline workers at a rate necessary to rent or own a home in Georgetown, I’d need to double the hotel rates, which means my occupancy would fall dramatically, which means I would probably close my doors.”

Ms. Healey said the area’s future business growth will bring challenges in hiring employees. 

“It will become harder and harder to compete with all these industries for employees,” she said. “We will have a higher percentage of staff driving farther because they can’t afford to live here, and it will get harder and harder to attract them to Georgetown.”

Speaking from the perspective of a housing provider, Habitat’s Debbie Hoffman noted “the beginning of an affordable housing solution is you have to have a place to put housing.” 

Affordable housing competes with higher-end housing and developments for land, she said. 

The cost of building materials has risen so quickly, Ms. Hoffman said that Habitat can only afford to build half as many houses as a few years ago. 

“And that’s with donated labor,” she added.

Habitat for Humanity builds new homes and also repairs older houses. Ms. Hoffman said a lack of home repair is a significant affordable housing issue.

“There are a number of families in Williamson County living in homes that are beyond repair. Let that sink in,” she said. “They own an older home, one they’ve lived in for many years, but they haven’t been able to do the upkeep. They’re caught in a bind. 

“Either they don’t have the funds to do maintenance, or they’re not physically able to do so. And as time has gone by, those homes have become old, not affordable, or not safe enough for them to live in.”

Williamson County’s population grew by 120.2 percent between 2019 and 2021, Workforce Solutions’ Kelly Moreno noted. Future growth in industry and retail will continue to attract new residents. Affordable housing will be a primary driver for this growth’s workforce. 

She said there needs to be “outside the box thinking” to provide a variety of needed housing.