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Multifamily affordable housing breaks western Travis County development pattern

Thursday, November 15, 2018 by Ryan Thornton

As the overwhelming support for Proposition A at last week’s election indicates, Austin-area residents want affordable housing as much as they need it. This fact is especially apparent following Travis County Commissioners Court’s support on Tuesday morning of a dense and affordable multifamily development to be built in an expensive, exclusively single-family neighborhood in the Austin extra-territorial jurisdiction near Lake Travis at Storm Drive and FM 620.

Rise Residential Construction previously submitted an application to the Community Development Block Grant Office for a fair housing review with the ultimate goal of applying to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for a 4 percent low-income housing tax credit allocation for Lakeway Apartment Homes. After review, the grant office and the county Department of Transportation and Natural Resources recommended a resolution of no objection to the Commissioners Court, which the court unanimously approved Tuesday morning.

The 180-unit development will feature a variety of layouts from efficiencies to three-bedroom units, with the majority to be one-bedroom apartments. All units will be restricted to households making 30-80 percent of the median family income, allowing for a broader range of tenant incomes as long as the average median family income of all tax credit units combined is 60 percent MFI or below. Qualifying hourly wages range from $12.40 to $33.07.

The area is currently considered low to moderate income according to low/moderate income summary data from 2014, but is expected to be removed from this category when new data is released in January 2019.

Bill Fisher, vice president of development at Sonoma Housing Advisors LLC, said allowing tenants making up to 80 percent of MFI was a major factor in the economic feasibility of the site, which has the obstacles of high land cost and complete lack of transit. He also cited relatively high density (30 units per acre), high average income of the area, investor interest, long-term interest rates with tax-exempt financing, and a predicted average occupancy of 97 percent as reasons for the site’s probable success.

While the lack of transit was a concern in the fair housing review, Fisher said the purpose of the housing is primarily to help people who already work in the area and must make long car commutes to their workplaces due to the unaffordable housing in the area. Although residents won’t be able to rely on transit options, their work commutes may be much shorter.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said traditionally lower-income professionals such as teachers and firefighters stand to benefit most from the increased housing diversity.

As County Judge Sarah Eckhardt highlighted, another major benefit of the site is its location in a moderate to high opportunity area, whereas most new affordable housing is built in low-opportunity areas, which saves development costs but contributes further to segregation patterns.

“The fact that this is in a moderate to high opportunity area is a big deal,” said Eckhardt. “It is true that there is no transit there, so that’s a ding under our fair housing screen, but that ding is outweighed by the fact that this is in a moderate to high opportunity area.”

Eckhardt also mentioned a collaborative effort between the county and Lakeway and Bee Cave residents to create “novel approaches” for transit in western Travis County.

With the court’s approval of the resolution, Rise Residential Construction will go forward with its application to TDHCA for the desired 4 percent tax credits.

This story has been corrected to clarify the location of the project. 

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