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Measure seeks ways to spread affordable housing more evenly across Austin

Wednesday, August 2, 2017 by Syeda Hasan

City Council is set to take up a measure Thursday to encourage development of affordable housing to be more evenly dispersed throughout the city.

Low-income housing tends to be built in higher-poverty areas on the outer edges of the city. Rental housing that’s affordable to people earning $25,000 or less a year is scarce or nonexistent in many of Austin’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

A resolution proposed by Council Member Greg Casar asks city staff to look into ways to get more tax credits to developers with projects in moderate- or high-income areas.

“We want and clearly need more affordable units, income-restricted, everywhere in the city, but with some of these projects, we’re just getting them in one particular part,” Casar told Council members at City Hall on Tuesday. “What ways can we address both issues at once? What might be some of those options?”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development distributes money to states and local housing authorities, which in turn award money to developers in the form of housing tax credits. These low-income housing tax credits are the primary government tool cities use to add new, below-market rate rental units.

But before builders can break ground, they need approval from state and local government. Casar said the approval process could be used to help counter the economic segregation.

Council Member Alison Alter questioned how his measure might align with existing plans. In April, Council approved the Strategic Housing Blueprint, which sets a goal of adding 135,000 new units over 10 years and prioritizes placing new housing near transit and high-growth corridors.

“They’re supposed to be coming back with an implementation plan which covers all of these things, and yet we’re giving them additional direction,” Alter said.

Casar said the housing blueprint takes a comprehensive view, but while Council is waiting on that implementation plan he doesn’t want to miss the opportunity to get affordable housing in new places. He said many of the tax credit projects recently approved in his district, which encompasses parts of Northeast and North Central Austin, have been located farther away from Central Austin.

“Had there been, potentially, more city funding at stake or more city incentives or support with certain programs, maybe those affordable housing builders would have had the opportunity to go farther south in my district, closer to even more services and higher-quality schools,” he said.

Council Member Ora Houston noted that by the time developers come to Council for approval, they tend to have their project sites picked out. Casar said the goal is to have the city involved earlier in the process, encouraging builders to consider a wider range of sites.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News.

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