Non-profit Agency Takes ‘Brick’ Road to Affordability, Market Appeal

The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas is a housing paradox. On the one hand, the region anchored by the cities of Brownsville and McAllen is relatively poor. The per capita annual income is only slightly more than half that of the state average and the poverty rate is almost double the state average. Yet, at the same time, homeownership is slightly higher than the state average, or about 70 percent, versus 65 percent, according to the 2010 US Census.

Perhaps part of the explanation is Affordable Homes of South Texas, Inc. (AHSTI), the largest builder of affordable homes in the four-county region. Founded in 1976 as McAllen Housing Services Inc., the non-profit federally supported agency has helped about 3,400 low- and moderate-income working families buy homes.
The agency builds 110 to 120 new, single-family homes each year, according to long-time Construction Director Alfredo Munguia. The houses are in the price range of $52,000 to $58,000, not including land costs, and vary in size and floor plan.
Photo courtesy of AHSTI
The selection includes two-, three- and four-bedroom units, ranging in size of actual living area from 950 to 1,358 square feet. About 80 percent of the units are three-bedroom/two-bath houses with garage, utility room and front porch – a total footprint of about 1,600 square feet, Munguia says. And, since 1990, AHSTI has used bricks as the primary material for the exteriors of 95 percent of the homes it builds. Bricks cover all sides of the structure.
“That’s what our client prefers,” Munguia says. “They prefer bricks for safety, better insurance rates, overall looks, and variety of styles and colors. There’s something for everyone. It also holds up well in this hot, humid climate – no mold or mildew problems. And it requires very little maintenance.”
Munguia says bricks also are preferred, because they are a “green” material and provide superior protection from windstorms, such as hurricanes and tornadoes. Vendors of other (non-masonry) siding materials have approached the agency in the past about using such materials, but the agency could see no
reason to depart from the brick path.
“It never occurred to me that bricks and affordable housing didn’t go hand-in-hand,” says Munguia. “Because of the lower maintenance costs and lower insurance rates, bricks are the most economical choice.”