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Council approves East Austin land trusts

Monday, June 8, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Affordability was in fashion at last week’s City Council meeting. In the midst of talk about homestead exemptions and homestead preservation districts, Council members also revisited another strategy the city has used to create affordable housing. And, as has been their practice since their election, they took a close look at the issue.

Council members were asked to consider re-establishing the Chestnut Neighborhood Revitalization Corporation (CNRC) and the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation as community land trusts. Under state law, the city can designate organizations that are developing affordable housing as land trusts, which allows them to be exempt from the city’s portion of property tax.

The ordinance passed in a vote of 9-0-2, with Council Members Ora Houston and Don Zimmerman abstaining. Council Member Delia Garza was absent.

To date, the city has provided $2.6 million to the Chestnut organization since it was created in 2012 and $3.8 million to the Guadalupe organization, which was created in 2008.

Houston said the issue for her was highlighted by CNRC’s most recent project, “The Chicon.” She questioned why the city was supporting the construction of one-bedroom units that will sell for $150,000, two-bedrooms for $185,000 and three-bedrooms for $245,000 and deeming those units “affordable.”

“In some parts of Austin, that is affordable,” said Houston. “But when you talk about people losing housing and not being able to transition from rental or leased property into homeownership, this creates a problem for me. … The housing is not workforce housing. It increases the gentrification that we continue to complain about. The city is complicit in this.”

Houston said she had concerns about what the city was supporting, and indicated that she planned to ask a lot of questions about the project in August when the CNRC project was back before Council. She pointed out that, in contrast, a recent Guadalupe project was offering homes at an $85,000 price point.

CNRC part-time project manager Sarah Andre explained that the organization was incorporated as a nonprofit in 1998, when the neighborhood was in the midst of their neighborhood planning process.

She said that, since then, the group has worked on neighborhood improvements such as building sidewalks and establishing a pocket park. In 2007, the group built two homes, and in 2010 established low-income housing for seniors.

At this point, they have embarked on the mixed-use, mixed-income project, “The Chicon,” under the terms of a land trust.

Council will discuss funding for that project more specifically in August.

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