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Equitable Housing is a Basic Human Right

Thursday, June 20, 2019

By Ignacio Urrabazo, Jr., Commerce Bank president and CEO and Elizabeth Alonzo-Villarreal, NeighborWorks Laredo CEO


The American Bankers Association recognizes the month of June as American Housing Month, a time to celebrate and highlight the housing options available to consumers and the role banks have in financing those options. But the availability of affordable housing is a growing national crisis. In 2018, talkpoverty.org ranked Texas 41st on the list of states with adequate affordable housing. Housing is the largest expense for any individual or family, and the inability to qualify for safe housing can be a catalyst for other social problems within a community like food insecurity, crime and educational attainment.


In 2017, the Laredo City Council adopted the Viva Laredo Comprehensive Master Plan, which identified a lack of housing choices and the inability of individuals or families to qualify for financing as two of the most pressing issues facing our city. A plan-related survey found that 67 percent of respondents believe there is a lack of affordable housing.  Commerce Bank's commitment to "We Make It Happen" and NeighborWorks Laredo, Inc.'s mission to provide and develop affordable housing inspired them to act on this plan and create two projects in 2014 and 2016 that have provided over 30 affordable housing units.


However, subsequent projects were put on hold while discussions about property tax exemptions took place at the local and state level. The inability for 501(c)(3) organizations to qualify for 100-percent property tax exemptions in Webb County is preventing Commerce Bank and NeighborWorks Laredo from moving forward with a multifamily residential project that could potentially provide up to 40 affordable housing units for seniors and veterans, filling a great need in our city.  In addition, this project would create revenue for the city, with added water and sewer connections and consumption and other utilities and services that would generate jobs. The project would also enhance the landscape of the neighborhood with new, energy-efficient units.   


The bottom line is that if our communities are going to be successful in building more affordable housing, and in changing policies that enable more housing construction and equitable mortgage lending practices, then our elected officials and business and civic leaders must be involved. It is imperative that collaboration exists between the private and public sector and non-profits if we are going to eliminate housing inequities and change the way revitalization and redevelopment happens in our city. Equitable Housing is a basic human right, and we all need to do more.


Communities thrive when the individuals, families and businesses in them succeed. Having safe and affordable places to live is the foundation of a successful and thriving community, and Commerce Bank and NeighborWorks Laredo understand the positive impact that strong and involved businesses can have on a community. Our organizations have vowed to set the standard for all businesses to do more. Our vision is for neighborhood and family stabilization. The challenges facing our future are significant, but they can be overcome through these types of partnerships.


Since its beginning, NeighborWorks Laredo has educated and counseled over 10,000 clients and has created a community investment of over $334 million, enabling 3,500 Laredoans to become homeowners and preventing over 400 families from losing their homes to foreclosure.


We encourage you to get involved by talking to your councilperson. For more information about Commerce Bank, visit ibc.com or find us on Facebook @IBCBankWeDoMore. For more information about NeighborWorks visit nwlaredo.org.


Ignacio Urrabazo, Jr., is president and CEO of Commerce Bank and serves as a banking representative on the board of directors of NeighborWorks.  With more than 48 years of banking experience, Urrabazo has established himself as one of the leading small business-banking experts.

Elizabeth Alonzo-Villarreal became CEO of NeighborWorks in 2015.  She holds a master's degree in Public Administration and a bachelor's degree in Business Administration. She is a certified Public Housing Manager and certified Homeownership Counseling Manager.