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  The Texas Bootstrap Loan Program
In 1999, Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. introduced legislation aimed at making affordable housing more readily available to low- and very-low-income residents. Senate Bill 1287 required the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) to create a loan program through which it partners with nonprofit organizations to help Texas residents purchase, build or renovate homes. Called the Texas Bootstrap Loan Program, legislation passed in 2001 made it a permanent part of the TDHCA affordable housing efforts.

According to the US Census Bureau's most recent survey, over 25 million people call Texas home. Of those, only 25 percent have higher education degrees. The average income is just over $48,000 and 17 percent of residents live below the poverty line. That means there are over 4 million people in Texas for whom home ownership is all but impossible unless they get some help. That's why the Bootstrap program was initially established in 1999 and given permanence just two years later.

Each year, $3 million is made available through the program and allocated to families whose incomes are at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). At least two-thirds of the program's funding is reserved for counties participating in the Economically Distressed Area Program (EDAP). An EDAP area is defined as an area in which the residents' water and/or sewer needs are not adequately met.

In addition to making the program permanent, the 2001 legislation increased loan maximums from $30,000 to $45,000 per household. Under the program, families and individuals can receive a total of $90,000 to help build or rehabilitate a house, with $45,000 coming from the Bootstrap program itself and an additional $45,000 potentially available from private funding. The person who's going to own/reside in the house must provide 65 percent of the labor required for building or rehabilitation. This serves the dual purpose of keeping construction costs low and giving the loan recipient a tangible investment in the property. Studies have shown that programs requiring "sweat equity" are often more successful, with homeowners retaining their properties longer and maintaining them more consistently. And by keeping construction costs to a minimum, homeowners can opt for a slightly larger home or an amenity that would have otherwise been unaffordable.

Families and individuals cannot apply directly for housing loans. Instead, non-profits and "Self-Help Centers" receive funding that they allocate to households. In order to participate in the program, non-profits must first apply to become certified "Nonprofit Owner-Builder Housing Providers." The application process is fairly simple, comprised of a 4-page information worksheet and supplemental information like a 501(c)(3) certificate and Articles of Incorporation.

The Texas Bootstrap Loan Program is unique, and is a great example of a way that government can help people help themselves. To date, about 900 families have received assistance through the program and now enjoy the benefits and security of home ownership.

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