Panelists address housing issues at U.S.-Mexico Border Summit
Contact: Scott Maier, Senior Editor 381-3639
Posted: 08/22/2001
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Much has been done to increase and maintain affordable housing along the border, but there remains plenty of room for improvement, a group of panelists said Wednesday during the U.S.-Mexico Border Summit at The University of Texas-Pan American.

Robert Calvillo, McAllen Affordable Homes executive director, speaks during the session on border housing challenges and opportunities Wednesday at the U.S.-Mexico Border Summit at The University of Texas-Pan American.

The hour-long session, "Addressing the Border Housing Challenges and Opportunities," was moderated by Randy McLelland, president of Chase Bank in McAllen. Some speakers discussed borderwide housing problems and solutions, while others looked at existing and future affordable housing efforts in the Rio Grande Valley.

Along the U.S.-Mexico border, there are severe housing problems, especially in colonias, said Stacey H. Davis, Fannie Mae Foundation president and CEO. Many colonias have inadequate water/wastewater capabilities and overall infrastructure, compounded by an ever-increasing population.

But, while the challenges are steep, they are not insurmountable, Davis added. The Foundation is assisting through a homeowner education/outreach program and by providing financing for safe, affordable housing. It also has partnered with UTPA for Project HOPE, which has built 35 homes and rehabilitated 52 others in the Valley.

Meanwhile, recent developments at the national level are a positive sign toward providing sufficient housing, said Shannon Sorzano, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development deputy assistant secretary for International Affairs.

In office less than a year, President Bush already has put housing on the national agenda, and border issues have become a top priority. New HUD Secretary Mel Martinez is also implementing new programs and financing methods to provide more affordable housing along the border.

But, the housing situation in Mexico is just as critical, said Lic. Jaime Sancho, general director for Border Social Issues in Mexico. A significant portion of the Mexican populace has migrated north from the central and southern parts of the country for better jobs and quality of life, especially since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"Housing is one of the key issues Mexico border cities are facing today," Sancho said. "Two main problems are how to finance the houses and how to provide enough sustainable land to handle a growing population."

Apolonio Montejano, Housing Assistance Council Southwest Region director, attributes the difficulty in home ownership for border residents to insufficient resources and neglect by government and other agencies. Instead, financial institutions can make more flexible mortgages, federal and state governments can provide more resources, and nonprofit organizations must continue to represent low- and moderate-income families. "Housing is not about brick and mortar. It's about people," Montejano said.

In the Valley, McAllen Affordable Homes has built or rehabilitated about 1,500 houses in the city since it started in 1976, said Robert A. Calvillo, McAllen Affordable Homes executive director.

Currently focusing on a central city revitalization program, as well as buyer education and matched savings programs, McAllen Affordable Homes is now working with elected officials to form a Community Development Corporation of South Texas that will help carry out its efforts countywide.

Other housing panelists included Eduardo Caso, Rio Grande Valley Wells Fargo Bank senior vice president for International Banking, who said community development lending programs for affordable housing through the public/private sector can provide a healthy economy for both businesses and residents; and Amancio J. Chapa Jr., Amigos del Valle executive director, who said new financial mechanisms and partnerships must be developed instead of relying primarily on government assistance.

The prestigious three-day U.S.-Mexico Border Summit, which ends Friday, is bringing together high-ranking officials from both countries, representatives of major national foundations and corporate leaders to examine international trade, energy, telecommunications, utility infrastructure corridor development, border manufacturing opportunities, water, housing and health issues.