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Affordable housing development facing delays at City Hall

Friday, August 5, 2016 by Syeda Hasan

The Elysium Park apartment complex, a new affordable housing development planned for North Austin, is facing delays at City Hall. City Council has decided to postpone a zoning decision for the project.

The proposed development would include about 90 units, a majority of which would be priced at below-market rates – in other words, affordable housing. In order to do that, developers were seeking a change from the current zoning, which is a combination of industrial park (IP) and rural residence (RR) zoning to mutifamily (MF-4) zoning.

Council Member Greg Casar, who represents District 4, spoke against the postponement.

“We talk a lot about being a progressive, forward-thinking city,” Casar said. “We talk a lot about economic integration. This project is a really great way for us to do that.”

Dave Anderson of the Drenner Group spoke on behalf of the developer. He explained that they were seeking an indefinite postponement in light of the fact that they had not won the state tax credits upon which the project’s funding relied heavily. “We need time to determine whether anything is possible,” he explained.

Critics of the proposed development say the multifamily project could increase traffic and flooding risks for surrounding neighborhoods, but Casar sees the 7-acre tract of land in North Austin as an ideal location. By the city’s own estimates, Austin has enough affordable housing for only 25 percent of its very low-income households. Casar said the project could give low-income families access to schools and other resources.

“I don’t think that we should pass up an opportunity to put affordable housing where families will have access to Murchison Middle and to Anderson High School, a census tract with median family income of $100,000 to $125,000 a year, west of MoPac where we have very little subsidized and affordable housing,” he said.

The case drew criticism from District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman, who said all subsidized housing projects are unaffordable and unsustainable, but District 10 Council Member Sheri Gallo voiced her support.

“You know, we talk over and over again about affordability in this community, and we’ve got to walk that talk, and we have to put housing in places where we have the ability to do that,” Gallo said.

Nearby property owners have filed a petition against the proposed development, which means the rezoning will need approval from three-fourths of Council members in order to move forward. However, it’s unclear when the decision will go to a vote. Council members have decided to postpone the case indefinitely in a vote of 10-0-1, with Council Member Ellen Troxclair abstaining.

Following the vote, Casar issued a statement expressing his disappointment that more Council members did not declare support for the item.

He wrote, “The zoning case before the Council had nothing to do with traffic, noise, or environmental issues. The affordable housing development was in fact requesting a lower zoning category on the site than is currently allowed. … It is not enough for Council to pass resolutions in favor of affordable housing. We must aggressively use all the tools in front of us to dismantle economic segregation.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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