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County starts housing finance agency

Monday, June 7, 2004 by

Commissioners approve lease-purchase program to aid poor

The formation of Travis County’s first single-family lease-purchase program was approved by county commissioners last week with little fanfare.

County commissioners approved the creation of a new Housing Finance Corporation (HFC) last week primarily to implement a lease-purchase program. The lease-purchase program will provide home ownership opportunities for homebuyers that can afford monthly mortgage payments but are not wealthy enough to make a substantial down payment or the credit standing to qualify for a mortgage.

Under the new lease-purchase program, the HFC will work closely with eligible applicants to repair their credit and set aside a proper down payment during the 39-month lease program. Initial plans are for the county to purchase the property identified by the applicant and then lease that property back to the applicants until those applicants can qualify for a mortgage loan.

“This program will probably be able to help a lot of folks,” Commissioner Ron Davis said at a recent court meeting. “We need to make sure folks know about the program.”

This is a new avenue for the HFC, said manager Harvey Davis. The HFC, a stand-alone entity created by commissioners, could do no more under its charter than provide down payment assistance to county residents.

Wiley Hopkins, executive director of the Travis County Housing Authority, says the lynchpin of the program’s success will be the credit challenges. The applicants that will be accepted into the lease-purchase program may be perceived to be “very risky” to most lenders in the traditional mortgage market, Hopkins said.

“We’re going to require very detailed information on every applicant,” Hopkins said. “We will have a lot of hands-on work with each of our clients. We’ve committed a team of people to provide each person with the support to get into a house.”

Under the process, the HFC would purchase the home on behalf of the qualified participant, Hopkins said. Then the applicant would lease the home back. As they go through the lease period, the homeowner will participate in programs to rehabilitate credit. A portion of the lease payment each month would be set aside for home ownership, so an applicant can have “cash in hand” for purchase.

Initially, the HFC intends to enroll 200 families. Those families would be pre-qualified to pick homes they want the HFC to purchase. The homes can be located anywhere in the county.

The city’s office of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development sent a letter to county commissioners at the end of May, asking them to consider SMART housing standards as a prerequisite for houses purchased for the program within the city limits. SMART stands for safe, mixed-income, accessible, reasonably priced and transit-oriented, which are the goals of the program.

County officials, however, said that such a prerequisite would prove to be a significant delay for the program. The county also wants to be sure to offer as much flexibility as possibility in the purchase of the home.

Directors of the HFC, which will be known as the Strategic Housing Finance Corporation of Travis County, will include Tom Albin, Melvin Wrenn, Richard Moya, Mary Nicholson and Roberto Cabrera. Under its charter, the five directors were each appointed to serve a term of six years.

Construction begins on children's hospital

Mueller groundbreaking signals launch of $175 million center

Hundreds of people turned out for groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Central Texas Children’s Medical Center at the former Robert Mueller Airport on Sunday. Mayor Will Wynn was joined by top executives of the Seton Healthcare Network and Bishop Gregory Aymond of the Austin Diocese for the event, along with several kids who had received treatment at the existing Children’s Hospital at Brackenridge.

When construction is finished in 2007, the new hospital will have 169 beds. The $175 million facility will have approximately three times the room of the Children’s Hospital, which has no room to expand.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate to watch Children’s Hospital grow since it opened in 1988,” said Dr. Erik Pronske, who serves as chief of staff at Children’s Hospital. “But just as we have seen a tremendous growth in the population of our area, we have seen a tremendous growth in the number of children we need to treat. And now, we are just simply out of room at our current site.”

The facility will serve patients from 46 counties in Central Texas. Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell, a long-time supporter of Children’s Hospital, said that this mission would play a critical role in the region’s future. “We’re very excited in Williamson County to be part of the greater Central Texas community that will help raise money for this beautiful new facility that our children depend on,” he said. “Over three thousand of our young adults and children visit Children’s Hospital every year. It’s very, very important to us to make sure we’re very successful here.”

Austin elected officials and surrounding residents praised the impact the new hospital would have on the surrounding neighborhood. “I can’t stress enough what a positive example the last eight years have been with the neighborhoods, the city, (and) the development community working together on creating a master plan for this whole 700 acres,” said Jim Walker, President of the RMMA Committee. Greg Weaver of Catellus, the master developer chosen for the project, joined him in welcoming the first major tenant. “I say we couldn’t have a better beginning,” said Weaver. “Like Seton, who brings hope for the future here of a place for healthy children, we bring high hopes of creating a healthy urban place where people will live and work with the children in their neighborhood.”

Austin Mayor Will Wynn noted that the groundbreaking was the first sign that Mueller would one day be transformed into the neighborhood envisioned by the stakeholders in the redevelopment process. “With this groundbreaking, we’re going to see the kickstart of what’s going to be the redevelopment of this old airport into businesses, residences and a different way of how we grow our city in the future,” he said. “As we see the fruition of the Mueller Master Plan come about, we’re going to recognize how important this project was for us from a medical standpoint . . . and an urban planning and growth standpoint.” The Mayor also singled out several city staff members for their hard work on the project, including Assistant City Manager Michael McDonald, Assistant City Manager John Stephens, Vickie Schubert, Sally Henly, Sue Edwards, Pam Heffner and Jill Maness.

At the conclusion of the prepared remarks, Children’s Hospital President and CEO Dr. Bob Bonar, Jr. directed the dignitaries over to the groundbreaking site with the call, “Let’s turn earth!” Bishop Aymond offered a blessing, while the Austin Girls Choir provided a rendition of “The Eyes of Texas.” Kids at the event were encouraged to contribute an item to a time capsule that will be placed in the building’s foundation when it is poured a few months from now.

Gordon takes Georgia job

Rudy Garza named Assistant City Manager

Assistant City Manager Lisa Gordon is moving closer to home. She’s submitted her resignation, effective June 18, to take over as City Manager in East Point, Georgia. The city is located 12 miles southwest of Atlanta. It has a population of 40,000 and a city workforce of 545 employees. Gordon will become the first African-American manager for the city, which is 78 percent African-American.

The city advertised the position through the national search firm of JBS International, which called for “a strong manager with solid financial acumen and the ability to mentor existing staff strengths while attracting new talent in areas of weakness.” Gordon will report to a nine-member council, with two members elected from four wards and the mayor chosen at-large.

Gordon began her tenure with the City of Austin as director of Infrastructure Support Services in December of 2000, and afterward was promoted to Assistant City Manager. She worked on the city’s agreement with Stratus Properties and was involved with the testing for soil contaminants near Barton Springs Pool. She recently was named Assistant City Manager in charge of public safety, trading job duties with Laura Huffman, who took Gordon’s former post as ACM in charge of Development, Environmental and Transportation Services. “While seeing Lisa leave is regrettable, I congratulate her and thank her for her service to the City of Austin,” City Manager Toby Futrell wrote in a memo notifying City Council members of Gordon’s resignation.

Gordon’s departure will mean new duties for Rudy Garza, who has served as City Budget Officer since June of 2001. He is being named Acting Assistant City Manager of the Public Safety Departments.

Aquifer district meeting set . . . Those with business at the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District should note that the board has scheduled a special meeting at 4:30pm on Tuesday for “discussion and possible action on agreement to resolve dispute with General Manager,” followed by “discussion and possible action on designation of Acting General Manager.” At last month’s meeting, General Manager Veva McCaig asked that the board discuss personnel matters involving her during open session, rather than in executive session. However, the board chose not to honor that request. The board was happy enough with McCaig when they promoted her after firing Floyd Marsh last year. But evidently it’s a tough job—one that may soon belong to someone else . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission is holding a special called meeting at 5:30pm in Room 500 of One Texas Center. Members plan to act on a zoning request for Ribelin Ranch and will take a second look at a request for a zoning change that would allow a tavern on Braker Lane. The property owner missed his chance to speak to the ZAP on the latter last week. Following that meeting, the ZAP committee studying zoning for Robinson Ranch will meet. The committee is also expected to work on the unusual zoning request at a Tuesday night meeting. Betty Baker, chair of the commission, said she expects the commission to vote next week on zoning recommendations for the huge swath of land the city wants to annex in Williamson County . . . Talking about options for the music channel . . . The city’s Music Commission will discuss competing proposals for taking over the channel that has become a financial albatross. The meeting begins at 6pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center . . . Design Commission . . . The commission is scheduled to talk about design and architectural matters beginning at 5:45pm in the conference room on the 8th floor of One Texas Center . . . Landfill hearing . . . The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality(TCEQ) will hold a hearing on regulations concerning siting, construction and monitoring of municipal landfills, aka solid waste facilities, at 7pm tonight at the TCEQ Austin Park 35 Complex, 12100 Park 35 Circle, Building F, in the third floor meeting room 2210 . . . Early voting starts today for the ACC runoff election . . . Veronica Rivera and Marc Levin are competing for the Place 6 seat. Rivera received 32 percent of the vote in the general election, while Levin received 30 percent. Early polling places will be set up at ACC’s Highland Business Center and ACC campuses throughout the district. The election will be held on June 19 . . . Honoring Glenn Bell . . . Work is underway to rename the city’s Southeast Service Center in honor of Glenn Bell. Bell worked for the city’s Water and Wastewater Department for 25 years. He passed away in December of 2003. More than 200 city employees signed a petition requesting that the facility be renamed in his honor. The Council directed the City Manager to begin the renaming process at its final meeting in May . . . Honoring Reverend Williams . . . The Council also passed a resolution directing the manager to begin work on renaming Ft. Branch Boulevard in honor of the Reverend J.R. Williams. “Reverend Williams has been in this neighborhood ministering at the True Light Missionary Baptist Church for some 30 years,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. “We’ve seen the many initiatives in this neighborhood that have come from his leadership and inspiration.”

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