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‘Domain on Riverside’ developers agree to house 100 homeless residents in existing apartments

Thursday, October 17, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

In response to more than a year of criticism and concerns tied to gentrification in East Austin, the developer of a proposed massive mixed-use project on East Riverside Drive has agreed to provide housing for up to 100 homeless residents and associated health care services in the apartment complexes currently on the property.

Presidium and Nimes Real Estate, owners of the nearly 100-acre site, announced an agreement with the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition to provide housing for a portion of the city’s homeless population in five existing apartment buildings, which will eventually be demolished to make way for 4 million square feet of office space and roughly 4,700 multifamily residential units.

The agreement with ECHO also calls for the property owners to provide $1.75 million over five years for health care and other supportive services for those residents.

There are several rezoning applications slated for consideration at today’s City Council meeting related to the five parcels comprising the project that was originally called Project Catalyst but has come to be known as the “Domain on Riverside.”

Council voted 9-2 in August to approve the first readings of the rezoning requests, with Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council Member Greg Casar voting no. Council voted in favor of the project on second reading in a vote of 6-5, with Garza, Casar and Council Members Leslie Pool, Alison Alter, and Kathie Tovo voting in opposition.

ECHO currently has 18 clients living in units on the property, and after the rezoning is approved, will work quickly to move new residents in and provide services. Advocates for the homeless believe the agreement constitutes the largest commitment in Austin by private companies providing housing for homeless people.

“ECHO is grateful for this commitment to house some of Austin’s most vulnerable residents experiencing homelessness. Ending homelessness in Austin and Travis County will require partnerships with the private sector such as this one,” ECHO Executive Director Matt Mollica said in a prepared statement. “This arrangement provides access to a quality home for people experiencing homelessness in Austin. The commitment of supportive service dollars from Presidium and Nimes Real Estate is a crucial component to this agreement.”

The project’s owners have also committed to building up to 565 affordable housing units, aimed at residents earning no more than 60 percent of the area’s median family income. That commitment is estimated to represent a $90 million investment in affordable housing.

“These owners recognize that they are a part of this community, and it’s why they have gone to such great lengths to listen to what the community wants and needs. They’ve truly listened and responded with this historic proposal,” said Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the developers.

Each public hearing and Council vote related to the project has drawn protests from local activists who see it as a prime example of high-end development displacing longtime residents and businesses. The group Defend Our Hoodz has been the most vocal and active organizer of those protests, frequently interrupting discussions and shouting down those involved with the development.

Prior to the approval of first reading in August, six arrests were made as a result of protests related to the demolition and construction, which will take place in phases over the next 10 to 20 years.

Council members representing portions of East Austin have split their votes on the matter. While Garza and Casar voted against it in August, Natasha Harper-Madison and Pio Renteria voted in favor. Before his vote, Renteria said that displacement and gentrification are caused by an overall lack of affordable housing.

This story has been changed since publication to correct the level of MFI housing will be offered at and to add Council’s second vote. Photo by Matthew Rutledge made available through a Creative Commons license.

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