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County says affordable housing should be priority in Del Valle PID

Wednesday, February 6, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Public improvement districts are becoming more prevalent in eastern Travis County, but commissioners are worried that not enough is being done to ensure that lower-income residents will benefit from the opportunities PIDs bring to their communities.

Before voting next week on a petition to create the Velocity Crossing PID in Del Valle, commissioners consulted with staff Tuesday morning to confirm that affordable housing units would be part of the agreement with the project developer.

Velocity Crossing is a 324-acre, dense, mixed-use development at the intersection of state highways 71 and 130 in Travis County Precinct 4. The western part of the property will feature office space (including medical offices), a cinema, restaurants and retail shops while the eastern portion will feature up to 1,693 multifamily housing units, a hotel and additional retail and office space.

Because the district contributes to community needs such as job creation, improved trail connections and multimodal transportation infrastructure, landowning businesses within the PID will pay up to $70 million of development costs through land assessments over a period of 30 years.

Patricia King, Austin Neighborhoods Council president and longtime Del Valle resident, said that Del Valle residents are in favor of the district, as long as it’s done correctly. “So many other areas have boomed and prospered and then just fell flat; we don’t want that to happen to Del Valle,” she said.

Like much of eastern Travis County, Del Valle is in a U.S. Department of Agriculture-recognized food desert, meaning easy access to healthy foods is difficult to nonexistent. King said that most Del Valle residents with personal transportation are routinely traveling to Bastrop County to shop for groceries. The access roads built around Velocity Crossing, she said, will provide an incentive for grocery stores to come to the area.

King said she and Commissioner Margaret Gómez have worked for over 10 years to bring an HEB to the community with no success. Since the announcement of Velocity Crossing, however, HEB has been considering a store adjacent to the PID property. “Anything that would increase their timeline and put a store there, we’re for it, because we’re tired of waiting,” King said.

As is the case in most new mixed-use urban developments, unless measures are taken to guarantee affordability in the area, Del Valle’s current residents may find themselves pushed out as housing demand around the district increases.

Commissioner Brigid Shea expressed concern that the developer’s obligation to pay for or provide on-site affordable housing had not been adequately addressed.

Karen Thigpen, assistant corporations administrator with the Planning and Budget Office, said that because developers will build the PID from west to east, completing the multifamily units on the far east side in the final phase of construction, the details on the affordable housing units are still unclear. The multifamily parcels “are not even platted at this point,” she said.

Because the development timeline means construction would not begin for any affordable housing until four to six years from now, Thigpen said staffers have asked the developer to provide the stipulated 10 percent fee for affordable housing as the county issues bonds over the coming years in lieu of building the units. The county may then use the developer’s contribution to propose a purchase and sale agreement for land when the residential plots are platted and accessible.

In the case that an economic downturn occurred before the land was ready or the county found a more effective use for the 10 percent contribution funds, Thigpen said the money would not be tied to the project.

Nonetheless, though the public improvement money could technically be used to purchase cheaper land for affordable housing elsewhere in the county where lack of infrastructure or services currently prevent development, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt insisted that affordable housing itself is not the goal of the PID.

“The market naturally produces some affordable housing in Del Valle, it’s just not very high quality and it doesn’t have high-opportunity elements associated with it,” Eckhardt said. “I 100 percent agree with the Commissioners Court in our zeal to create affordable housing, but we want it to be on fertile ground.”

Map courtesy of Google Maps.

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