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Council approves bid to buy AISD properties

Friday, December 9, 2016 by Jack Craver

City Council approved a measure Thursday to move forward with a joint effort between the city, Travis County and the Austin Independent School District to provide affordable housing on publicly owned land.

The measure authorized city staff to submit a bid to purchase 10 properties currently owned by the school district for an amount not to exceed $2.88 million. AISD announced on Oct. 4 that it was intending to sell the parcels, which are spread throughout the city. The district is accepting bids for the properties through Dec. 14.

Shortly after the district announced its plans to sell the properties, Council approved a resolution directing the city manager to “explore the feasibility” of the city buying the lands on its own or in partnership with another entity in order to promote affordable housing, recreation, environmental protection “or other significant community benefits.”

It is not a sure thing that the city will win the bid. There may very well be private entities offering larger sums of money for the same land. However, what the city has going for it is the stated support of school district leaders to convert as much public land as possible into affordable housing.

AISD board members have joined city and county leaders’ plans to identify publicly owned lands that could be used to create more affordable housing in the city. The school district framed its interest in the initiative as a way to create more housing options for financially strained families in the district as well as for its 6,000 teachers, many of whom struggle to find housing they can afford near the schools where they work.

Council Member Sheri Gallo expressed concerns on Thursday about how the city was planning to pay for the properties if it won the bid.

“We have more opportunities and needs than we have money for,” she said.

City staffers suggested that the land would likely be purchased with general obligation bonds or, potentially, money from the Housing Trust Fund. “That’s something we can work through once we determine if we’re the successful bidder,” said Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras.

Gallo responded that she wanted to make sure that any other agencies that might be called upon to come up with funding – such as the Housing Trust Fund – were aware of those plans.

The specifics of the city’s bid are not public; they were worked out by Council members and city staffers during two recent closed-door executive sessions.

Council Member Don Zimmerman issued his customary denunciation of affordable housing initiatives, arguing that they are unaffordable and unsustainable and that they promote economic segregation.

The city’s bid to purchase the school district property is but one part of the ongoing initiative to convert public lands into housing that is affordable to people with low or moderate incomes.

Council also approved a resolution in October directing staff to identify properties within the city’s own real estate portfolio that could be used for affordable housing. In November, it approved another measure that directed staff to collaborate with AISD and Travis County to develop a process for identifying public lands within each entity’s portfolio “for coordination on facilities and redevelopment,” including through joint-use agreements that could result in “affordable and permanent supportive housing, supporting transportation goals, or supporting space for creatives.”

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