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Affordable housing approved in East Austin

Friday, July 17, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

The board of commissioners for the Housing Authority of the City of Austin and its subsidiaries gave final public approval Thursday to a new affordable housing development in East Austin.

Called the Reserve at Springdale, the development will be located at the intersection of Springdale Road and Rogge Lane. It will consist of a 292-unit apartment complex with live-work units, a cafe, a meeting room that will be open to neighborhood use, green space, a community garden and more.

HACA President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Gerber told the Austin Monitor that he hopes units will begin to become available for lease by fall 2016. The necessary transactions, he said, should be completed within the next two weeks, followed by construction in August or early September that will likely take about 18 months.

“Our hope for Springdale is that it will really help to meet the affordable housing needs of the city for housing that’s at our lowest income levels,” Gerber said. “It will meet a critical need, not just for the city but also for the community in East Austin in particular.”

All units of the development will be limited to applicants who make 60 percent of the area median income or less for the next 30 years and will be open to those who hold Section 8 housing vouchers. In addition, Gerber said, HACA plans to engage in partnerships to provide job training and other types of programs to residents.

The Austin Affordable Housing Corporation, a HACA subsidiary, will co-develop the property with developer Ryan Companies US.

David Knoll, director of development for Ryan Companies US, told the Monitor that the project will be paid for through a combination of debt, tax credits and equity and will cost about $42 million. Though publicly supported, it will be privately financed, he said.

According to Gerber, the development has received public approval from all required parties, including the city. The Planning Commission approved a Conditional Use Permit for the site on Oct. 28, 2014. City Council upheld that decision on Feb. 26, despite an appeal by DeWayne Lofton, who was president of the Pecan Springs/Springdale Neighborhood Association.

In his testimony, Lofton said that his neighborhood was opposed to the project and that it wanted retail and small-business development instead of an apartment complex.

Pecan Springs resident Caitlin Kliesmet made similar comments during a public hearing before the board. “I inquired about any planned community development around the property development, and I learned that there really was none, which seemed a little alarming,” she said.

“Putting in 300 apartments or so in a neighborhood with very little retail, very few jobs, almost no child care – it seems a little odd to me to be putting low-income housing in an area that’s economically difficult for people to live in,” Kliesmet added.

Gerber responded to the concerns about retail space. “That site’s not an appropriate spot for it because it’s in the middle of a block, and you tend to see retail on corners – you tend to see retail in a master-planned retail development,” he said. “Instead, we do feel there’s a need for additional retail in East Austin around where this project will be developed.”

Gerber said the development partnership plans to work with the community and provide $75,000 to the Austin Area Urban League to study retail demand and opportunities in the area.

Board Chair Carl Richie also commented on concerns he has heard about the project. “I think the neighborhood, they feel like there’s too much subsidized housing,” he said.

“When you think about what’s happening in East Austin, it is going through gentrification, so all of a sudden the low-income part of the neighborhood that used to be there is no longer low-income,” Richie said. “Basically, what we’re trying to do is provide affordability in the area that is now changing.”

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