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BoA says project’s affordable housing is a token gesture

Wednesday, June 19, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

In Austin, “affordable housing” has become a magical phrase that is repeatedly heard within the walls of City Hall.

Although affordable housing is undoubtedly needed in the city, the Board of Adjustment indicated that it’s fed up with this phrase being used as a bargaining chip for increased development entitlements.

“I will not barter affordable units anymore for variances,” Board Member Michael Von Ohlen said at the June 10 meeting of the Board of Adjustment.

At that meeting, Emily Jones, who was representing Mid-City Development, requested a variance to allow the property at 3219 Manor Road to be built to a height of 60 feet rather than 40 feet. Sixty feet is currently allowed in portions of the project with other sections graduating down to 40 feet. The variance would allow for a uniform height of 60 feet for the entire project.

The five-story, planned mixed-use building is designed to have 130 units, 10 percent of which would be affordable.

Board Member Rahm McDaniel noted that the site is almost directly across from the Mueller development, which offers 25 percent of its units at affordable rates.

“The fact that it’s 13 units doesn’t really do a lot for me. It seems a little light,” he said of the proposed development’s number of affordable units.

Nor were board members comfortable with the developer not defining the term affordability. Board Member Yasmine Smith prodded Jones to elaborate on the percentage of median family income that the units would be offered at, but Jones was unable to commit, saying only that the units would be “affordable.”

“You’re using that as a trigger word,” said Smith, “and not doing what needs to be done for affordable housing, especially with a pool (on the roof).”

Several members of the community testified that they too objected to the construction of this complex. Dan Daniels, the president of the J.J. Seabrook Neighborhood Association, called the offer of affordable units “eye candy” in exchange for an increase in height.

In order to allow the developer to meet with the neighborhood and further discuss design options that would be amenable to both parties, the board voted unanimously to postpone the case until July. Board Member Melissa Hawthorne was absent.

Map courtesy of Google Maps.

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