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story.lead_photo.caption Antonio Williams, CEO for Texarkana, Texas, Housing Authority, speaks to the Joint Texarkana Community Committee on Tuesday at the Ark-Tex Council of Governments in Texarkana, Texas. Photo by Hunt Mercier / Texarkana Gazette.

TEXARKANA, Texas — Housing challenges in both Texarkanas were the subject of a meeting of city officials who heard from experts on the topic.

The Joint Texarkana Community Committee met Tuesday at the offices of the Ark-Tex Council of Governments on the Texas side.

Mae Lewis, Ark-Tex Council of Governments' housing manager, said the agency helps about 1,200 to 1,300 low-income families find affordable housing through Department of Housing and Urban Development vouchers, among other programs. A constant challenge is finding quality housing for those tenants, especially those in need of one-bedroom units, she said.

Antonio Williams, CEO of the Texarkana, Texas, Housing Authority, and Dub Wingfield, Executive Director of the Texarkana, Arkansas, Housing Authority, spoke about their agencies' activities, including renovations of older public housing units.

Through a HUD program called Rental Assistance Demonstration, the Texas-side Housing Authority is addressing a backlog of deferred maintenance with $3.6 million in spending, Williams said. The program also is financing renovations of the Arkansas side's 390 public housing units, Wingfield said.

Betsy Freeman, the city of Texarkana, Texas' grants administrator, detailed the uses of the city's HUD Community Development Block Grant funds in the area of housing. In each of the last two years, the city has spent about $99,500 to rehabilitate four homes, she said. The city also uses CDBG funds to help prospective home buyers afford down payments and closing costs.

Arkansas-side City Planner Mary Beck spotlighted ways the city is getting regulations out of the way of development, including a recent ordinance allowing homes to be built on lots smaller than previously approved.

The financial difficulties of many renters and potential home buyers were addressed by Denis Schafer of D. Schafer realty, who said low wages, poor credit scores and lack of down payments prevent them from being able get mortgages.

Mary Wormington, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity Texarkana, spoke about the organization's most recent projects, homes built for low-income families partially using volunteer labor. Habitat for Humanity has just completed a home in Nash, Texas, for a Vietnam War veteran and will soon dedicate its second home on the Arkansas side.

An initiative of the Texarkana USA Chamber of Commerce, the JTCC comprises Texas-side City Council members, Arkansas-side Board of Directors members and both mayors.

It was formed in fall 2017 to share ideas and discuss common challenges facing both cities but is not set up to take any action.

Arkansas-side Mayor Allen Brown and Board of Directors members Barbara Miner and Steven Hollibush, as well as Texas-side Mayor Bob Bruggeman and City Council member Bill Harp attended Tuesday's meeting.

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