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State House Bill Eases Burden on Public Housing Officials

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State Rep. Gary Van Deaver (R-1st) authored a bill designed to take the burden off small public housing agencies in Texas.

A new law that went into effect on Sept. 1 gives public housing officials working in smaller offices in Texas a break from what state lawmakers decided was a burdensome amount of financial education.  While some public housing officials will still need to do continuing investment training, some will no longer be required to do so thanks to Texas House Bill 1238.

The bill, enacted in May, eliminates the need to complete 10 hours of financial investment training within every two-year period for agencies that use CDs or interest-bearing savings accounts in order to retain federally mandated reserves.

"I was first contacted by some of the small housing authorities in my district who complained that they were spending a lot of money to be trained in some pretty complicated investment measures they will never use," says the bill’s author, GOP State Representative Gary Van Deaver.

Van Deaver says small agencies with fewer employees typically don’t handle a lot of money, and so keep financial reserves funded through simple banking measures like low-interest certificates of deposits and basic savings accounts.

An additional problem for small, especially rural housing authorities? Having to travel as far as Austin for sessions. That’s up to a six-hour drive from the outer reaches of District 1, which stretches from Lamar County to the Arkansas border.

Becky Rouse, the assistant executive director of the Commerce Housing Authority, says not having to spend time and money on courses her 10-person agency has no need for is likely to save the CHA thousands of dollars. Money she says can be used for "painting and plumbing, landscaping, energy-efficient appliances that we are putting in. We’re replacing new AC and central heat & air. So that money can be better utilized for the residents.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development lists a little more than 400 public housing offices in Texas. Many serve towns like Bogota in Red River County, population 1500. Or Beckville in Panola County, population about 850. Van Deaver says such tiny communities usually have just one person running the public housing office. Even if the price tag for an individual investment training course won’t break its bank ---- they’re often less than $150 ---- taking time away to attend classes can be a genuine hardship.

Of course, when one side of an equation saves money, another loses money. But providers of the investment courses don’t seem overly concerned. Bob Bland, professor of local government studies at the University of North Texas in Denton and the faculty director for UNT’s Center for Public Management, says the center is not worried about the money lost with the dropoff in small public housing agencies.

“We actually provide over 40, 45 training sessions every year to cities, counties, school districts, special authorities such as housing authorities and state agencies," Bland says. "Housing authorities represent one component, but a relatively small component, in terms of the budget impact for us, it’s negligible."

Bland says the Center for Public Management will continue to provide courses for all government entities that need to invest their public funds.