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Council looks to adjust TOD density bonus programs

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

An extra helping of housing for low-income families could be coming to near East Austin soon thanks to action taken by City Council on Thursday.

The body unanimously supported an item sponsored by Council Member Pio Renteria and aimed at allowing Austin Habitat for Humanity to build substantially more units on two adjacent properties than is otherwise allowed.

The properties – at 1409 and 1411 E. Fourth St. – are within the Plaza Saltillo Transit-Oriented Development district and are subject to its regulating plan.

Renteria’s item amended that plan to give Habitat extra density bonuses that will allow for more affordable housing. In exchange, the development can occupy a larger area and climb to 85 feet tall.

That extra density will allow Habitat to build nearly 80 new condominiums, almost a third of which will feature two or more bedrooms, according to Habitat’s director of operations, Greg Anderson. Without the change effected by Council, the project would only feature 19 units, all of them single-bedrooms. Anderson said that most of the units will be reserved for low-income families, though it will also likely include a few market-rate options.

“We are unbelievably happy about this opportunity to allow for working-class and creative-class folks to return and remain in a neighborhood that has seen median home sale price increases of well north of 100 percent in the last 10 years,” Anderson told the Austin Monitor.

Noting that he recently faced criticism over the number of affordable units in the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Plaza Saltillo project, Renteria explained that he was excited to provide Habitat with more tools to deliver a larger bucket of housing.

“When something like this comes around, I embrace it immediately,” said Renteria.

Before Council voted on the measure, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo tried to add stronger language requiring a majority of the units to have multiple bedrooms. However, she relented to Renteria’s request to render that simply as a “goal.”

“We set a lot of goals and then we fall short,” Tovo warned. “I hope this is one we are able to achieve through the work of Habitat for Humanity.”

The resolution also requires the city manager to evaluate density bonus programs in other TOD district regulation plans and bring back recommendations for enhancing affordable housing development. An amendment attached by Council Member Jimmy Flannigan directed that evaluation to be done in conjunction with the CodeNEXT process.

Anderson told the Monitor he fully supports those measures.

“We would love for Council members and the community to look at creative land use ideas such as these in their work towards achieving a successful CodeNEXT that truly does value and promote affordability throughout Austin,” said Anderson.

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