By Phil Crone
Executive Officer, Dallas Builders Association
With so much of the news cycle focusing on Washington, D.C., many may be unaware that Texas is in the thick of a legislative session. That will certainly change soon as we approach the March 10 bill filing deadline and debate heats up on topics ranging from the budget to bathrooms. For the residential construction industry that represents more than $31 billion in economic activity and more than 702,000 jobs in the state—there is a lot on the line.
As it stands right now, our Association has more than 50 pages of bills in our “decision list,” meaning they have an impact on home building one way or another. While the Texas legislative process is designed to kill bills as opposed to passing them (the old Schoolhouse Rock Bill on Capitol Hill skit rarely has a happy ending in Austin), we nonetheless are optimistic that this session will be a positive one for the housing industry.
One item on our radar is linkage fees. Inspired by a pending measure with the Austin City Council, the latest example of the Californication of Texas is a tax on new construction that would generate revenue for the city to provide affordable housing. The tax is popular in California and can be as high as $35 per square foot. It seems counterintuitive to address affordable housing by making housing less affordable. HB (House Bill) 1449 by Carrollton Representative Ron Simmons would prohibit Texas cities from imposing this tax.
The ongoing labor shortage continues to be the largest single issue facing the home building industry in the Dallas area. Increasing interest in and the availability of vocational schools to train the next generation of the construction workforce is essential to solving this problem. Efforts to “bring back shop class” were bolstered four years ago when the legislature increased curriculum flexibility to allow time for such programs. Several bills aim to address remaining obstacles: HB 380 (allows schools to purchase immunity insurance coverage for trade training programs) and HB 1245 (boosts state funding for construction technology programs and extends funding to grade eight).
Trees are another priority for the Dallas Builders Association. Many cities in North Texas assess tree mitigation fees on property owners. In the city of Dallas, these fees can approach or exceed the cost of the land itself, making development of heavily wooded areas such as South Dallas difficult or impossible in many cases. Fees collected are placed in city funds dedicated to acquiring parkland or planting trees on city owned property. SB (Senate Bill) 744 and HB 2052 provide credits to property owners who plant trees to offset the cost of tree mitigation. This bill asks the question, “Is it about the trees or about the fees?” If it is about trees, then this bill will give property owners the option to do the very thing that cities use the fees to do on their behalf. In cities, such as Dallas, which currently has $4 million idly sitting in its reforestation fund, it is clear that property owners can plant efficiently and effectively with these incentives.