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Council OKs road resolution for housing project

Friday, April 22, 2016 by Jo Clifton

City Council voted unanimously Thursday to direct City Manager Marc Ott to consider including in next year’s budget the construction costs of a public road that would run through a Habitat for Humanity project in Southeast Austin. Such a move would facilitate building more affordable housing in the subdivision.

Council Member Ora Houston was absent briefly at the time of the vote but told the Austin Monitor that she wanted to make sure the record would reflect that she voted for the resolution. Mayor Steve Adler was out of town on city business.

Council Member Delia Garza sponsored the resolution, and Council Member Pio Renteria was the co-sponsor. The project is in Garza’s district. Council members have been concerned about families displaced by the flooding of Onion Creek last year – over the Memorial Day holiday and then again on Halloween – and they expressed the hope that some of those families might live in the new subdivision.

According to land planner Sean Compton of TBG Partners, which is working with Austin Habitat for Humanity, the extension of Meadow Lake Boulevard has been on the city’s books as a future transportation project for quite some time. So, including it in next year’s budget would not add an unexpected road project.

Garza said that because the road was already planned as a city project and Austin Habitat for Humanity would be giving the city the right-of-way, the city would save money by not having to purchase the land for the road.

Garza also pointed out that Austin is in the same boat as San Francisco in terms of housing for middle-income people. The city has to figure out what to do to help the “missing middle” – people who don’t qualify for subsidized housing but still can’t afford to live in Austin. This is one way to do it, she said.

Renteria said, “This is a great opportunity for us to help a nonprofit group that is building affordable housing. With the Onion Creek flood … this is close to the Onion Creek area, and maybe they won’t feel like they have to move out of town. So this is more of a type of win-win.”

If the city will simply pay for the street, he said, Austin Habitat for Humanity will be able to build more affordable housing.

Phyllis Snodgrass, chief executive officer of Austin Habitat for Humanity, explained to Council that her organization acquired the property in 2013 before the Onion Creek floods and had thought of it as a project for five to 10 years down the road. However, after the flooding, there was a greater need for housing in the area, and the group began to work on moving forward with it.

If the city provides the road, Austin Habitat for Humanity can build 127 affordable homes, Snodgrass said.

As she explained in response to questions from Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, 50 of the homes will be available to people making 30 to 60 percent of median family income, and another 50 will be available to families making 60 to 80 percent of MFI. The remaining houses, Snodgrass said, would be available to families in the 90 to 110 percent MFI range.

If the city does not provide the road and the nonprofit has to find the funds to pay for it, she estimated that the Meadow Lake Boulevard project would include only 60 units for families at 80 percent of Austin MFI.

The resolution will come back to Council as part of its consideration of the Fiscal Year 2016-17 budget. The current estimate for the road is about $1,037,000, according to documentation provided to Council. The road would be an extension of Meadow Lake Boulevard from Misty Slope Lane to Quicksilver Boulevard, close to Pleasant Valley Road.

Greg Anderson, director of operations for Austin Habitat for Humanity, told the Monitor that the organization sells the houses to families, and their contracts stipulate that the nonprofit will buy back a house if and when the family wants to move. The contract includes a clause called a “shared appreciation model,” which means the homeowner gets part of the increased value of the house and the remainder goes back to the organization. That is how they avoid the tax problems seen at Mueller, he said.

Council Member Don Zimmerman tried to persuade his colleagues to eliminate one clause in the resolution that refers to the nearby Perez Elementary School losing students and the subsequent loss of funding. The “reduction in attendance could be offset by promoting new housing for families in the area on properties outside of a floodplain,” according to the resolution.

Zimmerman objected because he said there was evidence that the Austin Independent School District is losing students to charter schools, so the flood might not be the reason for the lower attendance at Perez.

Only Council Member Ellen Troxclair supported Zimmerman’s attempt to remove that clause from the resolution. He lost that motion on a vote of 8-2, with Houston Mayor Steve Adler absent. However, he and Troxclair did vote for the overall resolution.

Anderson said the group hopes to start construction on the project within 12 months of knowing what is going to happen with the road and start delivering affordable homes within 10 months after that.

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