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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Thursday, September 12, 2019 by Jo Clifton
$7.7 million added to housing trust fund
Council agreed during Tuesday’s budget meeting to more than double the funds in the city’s housing trust fund, by adding $5 million for rental housing development assistance and $2.7 million for a new home repair program. The trust fund now totals $14.4 million.
The home repair program has yet to be designed, but Rosie Truelove, director of the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, told Council that money “is slotted to explore a housing repair program that will specifically target areas of town, neighborhoods that are experiencing intense gentrification and displacement pressures.” Those funds, she said, would be used to repair housing stock so people living in those gentrifying neighborhoods would be able to stay in their homes.
Speaking to the Austin Monitor later, Truelove emphasized that her department would be seeking input from members of the community about how to design that program. In addition, the department will be hiring a new staffer to focus on displacement mitigation.
Although NHCD has been working on plans for displacement mitigation, it was not clear before this week that the department would be getting the millions now being transferred into the housing trust fund, but City Manager Spencer Cronk was in favor of the idea.
At one point during Tuesday’s budget discussion, Council Member Alison Alter talked about taking money out of the housing trust fund to be used at the discretion of the city’s new homeless strategy officer. There was considerable pushback and no apparent support for that idea from other members of Council.
In part because Council decided to raise taxes the full 8 percent currently allowed under state law, the city could have kept the extra money in the Budget Stabilization Reserve Fund. City policy requires that reserve fund to contain 12 percent of the overall General Fund budget.
As far as the new money is concerned, “It’s been a priority for us and so I think it was a welcome surprise that they were considering allowing us to use the excess revenue for the things we’re working on in housing,” Truelove said. “It’s an exciting opportunity for us … we’ve already spent our first-year allocation of general obligation bond dollars” for housing from the 2018 election. “We’re excited about all the opportunities coming our way,” she concluded.
The other portion of the money will be spent as part of the city’s rental assistance program.
“Imagine you were developing a property and you wanted to build a 50-unit multifamily (complex) affordable for people at 50 percent” of the median family income, Truelove said, and “you were coming to me for $5 million of financing through the general obligation bonds. We want you to do more – knock down the affordability level of 10 of those,” so they are affordable to people living at just 30 percent MFI.
NHCD has had considerable trouble with another program that offers homeowners loans in order to rehabilitate their homes. The Monitor has described the problems those homeowners faced in trying to get satisfaction from contractors whose work was substandard. Truelove said NHCD staff would be bringing forward a new contract proposal for that home repair loan program next week.
As far as helping fund affordable housing projects, departmental staffers have indicated that they will be working on scaling back requests from developers to make the money go further. This year the department approved financial assistance for 20 affordable housing projects. With the additional money, they will have additional burdens in trying to ensure that they are taking good care of the housing trust fund.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
affordable housing: This general term refers to housing that is affordable to Austinites, with or without subsidy.
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
city budget: The city’s plan for expenditures based on income.