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Council members approve $15 million in bond funds for housing

Monday, January 27, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Council members Thursday signed off on $15 million in bond funds for the city’s Neighborhood Housing Department. Their approval marks the first use of the $65 million in affordable housing bonds approved by voters in November 2013 to the department that will administer its use.


In so doing, Council members approved funds that will allow staff to begin the complex process of city participation in tax credits that would help add to affordable housing stock in the city. They also OK’d $2 million in funds that will be combined with another $1 million for a total of $3 million in funding for the city’s Go! Repair program.


Other funding approved by Council members sends $11 million toward Rental Housing Developer Assistance, and $1.75 million for development and acquisition of property.


Council members expressed some concern that there had not yet been a fuller vetting of specific allocations of the new money. “Is the whole breakdown…open for discussion?” wondered Council Member Laura Morrison. “I’d like to make sure we have an opportunity to discuss it overall.”


Neighborhood Housing Director Betsy Spencer told Council members that her department needed $4.5 million immediately in order to start the process of moving forward with 2014 candidates for the federal program designed to create low income housing with tax credits. That effort, should the city back a successful project, serve to increase affordable housing stock in Austin.


Still, Council members appeared unsure of their ability to specifically direct Spencer on the allocations.


Later, Council Member Bill Spelman offered what turned out to be the compromise. Meeting as the board of the Austin Housing and Finance Corporation to ratify the $15 million budget increase, Council signed off on a plan that will bring some level of discussion about specific allocations back at a later date.


“If we were to pass the capital budget in its current form right now…that would give Betsy the $4.5 million she needs in the bank allocated properly for the tax credit funds,” he began. “If we then chose, after an Audit and Finance Committee meeting, to reallocate the remaining money…that’s something we could do, but that would not get in the way of staff’s ability to do things they need to do right away.”

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