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East 6th Street project moves toward groundbreaking

Friday, September 19, 2003 by

Villas finally wins commitment for 2004 state tax credits

The Villas on Sixth Street has won $1 million in low income housing tax credits from the TDHCA (Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs), enabling developer Campbell-Hogue to enter negotiations with the City of Austin for additional funds. In winning the funding—which will be done through issuance of a 2004 Forward Commitment Notice for Low Income Housing Tax Credits—developers overcame a recommendation from TDHCA staff and gained assistance from a new law. Work of eastside supporters of the project and its urban location apparently had great weight when the TDHCA board made its decision earlier this month.

Now Campbell-Hogue will sit down with representatives of the city and the Austin Housing Finance Corporation to work out details of federal funding for the Villas. Paul Saldaña, who represents Campbell-Hogue, said he expects groundbreaking for the 160-unit project to be no later than May 2004.

The project, situated between East 5th and 6th Streets, will occupy most of the area between Chicon and Robert Martinez, offering 136 units for families who earn at or below 50 percent of the Austin median family income. A family of four can earn up to $28,000 per year to qualify for reduced rent. The rest of the units will be rented at market price.

Paul Hilgers, the city’s Community Development Officer, said he believes the public support for the project was part of its appeal, but perhaps the most compelling reason the board decided to grant the funding is its location just blocks from downtown. “Most tax credit deals are father out,” from the heart of the city, he said. Few other projects offer housing “for families with this level of income in the downtown area,” he noted. Hilgers said his department expects to reach agreement on the details of funding—which will come from federal community block grants and from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development—within the next month.

Saldaña said, “We’re literally leveraging dollars from everywhere,” he said, recounting the development’s uphill battle to win public financing. Last year, when Campbell-Hogue applied for state assistance for the project, the state was divided into 13 regions, with Austin being in Region 7, he said. At the time, there was no funding allocated for Region 7 and the Villas on 6th Street was ranked fourth among five projects evaluated by the TDHCA staff. “That was a huge obstacle,” he said.

But Campbell-Hogue and the City of Austin were still hoping that the Villas project could receive dollars from a fund comprised of money not allocated in other regions of the state. In July, the state board met and decided not to do any “forward commitments,” that is designate money to be paid out next year. Instead, Saldaña said, the project was placed on a list with 50 other applicants.

In July, Campbell-Hogue won close to $1 million in tax credits for a project in Victoria. That created another hitch for Campbell-Hogue, because at the time no developer was allowed to receive more than $1 million per year from the fund.

Saldaña recalled, “We were pretty much in limbo for about 2 months.” The board, he said, wanted to see a staff analysis of the impact of SB 264—enacted this year with an effective date of September 1. The new law raises the cap for each developer to $2 million per year, he said. So the delay in July worked to Campbell-Hogue’s advantage.

Saldaña said not only did the project have public support, but it also gained the support from a wide variety of local elected officials, including Senator John Cornyn, former Mayor Gus Garcia, Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, and Rep. Todd Baxter. He said community support came from the East Cesar Chavez and Holly neighborhoods, as well as the political group El Concilio.

No one happy with city's failure to release police report

The independent law firm hired to conduct an outside investigation into the shooting death of Sophia King has finished its work. And while the report will not be made public because it is considered to be part of an internal affairs investigation, police officials made enough public remarks on Thursday to signal that APD Officer John Coffey had been cleared for a third time.

Acting Police Monitor Al Jenkins and Police Chief Stan Knee made a joint announcement late Thursday afternoon. “After a review of the independent investigation report, I have no basis upon which to make any changes in my previous decision that Officer John Coffey and the other officers who responded to the scene of this unfortunate death acted within the law and department policy, and used deadly force only as a last resort to prevent the death or serious injury…of an employee of the Austin Housing Authority,” the chief said, reading from a prepared statement. He cited the confidential nature of internal affairs reports as the reason for keeping the full report, or even an executive summary, away from public view.Members of the Citizen Review Panel will be allowed to view the report, as will the City Manager. But even Officer Coffey, his attorney, and the family of Sophia King will be barred from reading it.

Some members of the public and the media had been under the impression that at least part of the report would be made public. Jenkins had originally scheduled an announcement for early Thursday afternoon, which was postponed after reporters had gathered at the Twin Towers office complex which houses the Police Monitor’s office. “It was my intention when I started at 1 o’clock to provide a summary of that investigative report,” Jenkins said. “However, the contract does state that the report itself is a confidential document. In order to change that, there needs to be an agreement between the City and the Austin Police Association.”

APA President Mike Sheffield told In Fact Daily he had been in contact with the Police Monitor’s office about the report, but that it was not the union’s fault that the report was sealed. “We didn’t have anything to do with that,” he said. “I talked to them. There was nothing we can do to fix this thing. The contract says what it says. There’s nothing we can do and it was not something that we thought up.” More information about the incident, Sheffield said, would be beneficial to both the union and the public. “Are we afraid to have it put out there? No. Do we want it put out there? Yes. Does the contract let us? No. So we are where we are,” he said. Nelson Linder of the NAACP and Jim Harrington, attorney for the King family, also expressed their dismay that the report would not be released.

Although the contents of the report will remain secret, Jenkins said the public should be confident that the civilian review process had worked as designed. “The process is complete. Before, we didn’t have this process. There’s transparency to this process that we didn’t have before,” he said. “Now, the process had an opportunity to go from beginning to end, and although there were some bumps in the road the process is there for the community.”

Knee agreed that there had been an appropriate level of review. “I can tell you that the Police Department, the Austin Police Association, as well as the community will be a bit frustrated by our inability to release this report,” he said. “But I can tell Ms. King’s mother that I have never in my 33 years of law enforcement experience ever seen an officer-involved shooting scrutinized to the level that this incident has been. Had we felt, had the grand jury felt that there was any culpability on the part of these officers…that they did not act to save a life and use deadly force because it was required, then we would have taken appropriate action.”

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Four Seasons tries again . . . The effort to expand the Four Seasons Austin Hotel has made its way onto another bill. Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) has included the hotel in Senate Bill 2, which was heard before the Senate Finance Committee this week. The bill would allow the state to release 1/10 of an acre to accommodate the Four Seasons’ expansion . . . Oasis variances approved . . . The Environmental Board Wednesday night unanimously approved a list of variances for the Comanche Ranch PUD (planned unit development) near Lake Travis. The owner of The Oasis restaurant, Beau Theriot, is planning to develop some of the land around the restaurant with a mixture of office and residential space. Most of the property, about 330 acres, would remain undeveloped as a nature preserve. The item will likely go to the City Council for consideration next month . . . Saltillo open house planned .. . Capital Metro and the City of Austin will host the first community open house for the Saltillo District Redevelopment Project from 6:30-8:30pm Wednesday at Nuevo Leon Restaurant, 1501 E. Sixth St, which overlooks the project site. The purpose of the meeting is to introduce the project consultants, staff and Community Advisory Group members to the community. The meeting should also provide an overview of the project history and future schedule. Capital Metro officials hope the meeting will be an important part of conversations with the community regarding potential redevelopment of the 11 acres of property owned by the authority . . . Wynn to address Unitarians . . . Mayor Will Wynn will be the guest speaker at First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4700 Grover Avenue at 11:30am Sunday. The Mayor’s appearance is part of the church’s continuing series of public affairs forums. Wynn will likely make a short introductory speech and answer questions from the audience. The public is invited to attend . . . Music City . . . The Downtown Austin Alliance will begin its free noontime concerts today with a concert by blues stylist Rob Roy Parnell. On September 26, John Arthur Martinez, who specializes in country and Tejano music, is scheduled, and the Beatles-style group, The Eggmen, will perform on October 3 . . . Seeking a lawyer. . . East-side activist Gavino Fernandez was in court on Thursday for a hearing related to criminal charges of assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a controlled substance. Fernandez is out of jail on bond, but that release was conditional on Fernandez securing an attorney. That lawyer and Fernandez are seeking to have the court appoint an attorney for him..

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