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Fannie Mae award will bring services to Montopolis affordable housing project

Tuesday, January 21, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

The federal housing lender Fannie Mae has awarded $555,000 to a local affordable housing nonprofit to help add health care and educational services to a project that will bring 90 new housing units to the Montopolis neighborhood.

The Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation received the award as part of Fannie Mae’s Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge, which has provided $10 million over the past two years to projects throughout the country that show promise in solving affordable housing issues. The money will be used for the forthcoming Escuela Nueva campus that will see the new housing built on top of a modernized child development center at the Escuela Montessori De Montopolis at 2013 Montopolis Drive.

The $25 million project that will dedicate a significant portion of its housing for seniors is expected to open in 2022 and is currently in the conceptual design phase. The award money will pay for partnerships with outside service organizations for programs related to intergenerational education, child development and health care services.

The model of working with existing organizations with underutilized real estate assets to add affordable housing was one of the strategies recommended by GNDC’s “Right To Remain” report that looked at how to curb displacement pressures in the Montopolis neighborhood.

Fannie Mae officials said the Escuela Nueva project was selected because it has the potential to serve as a model for communities all over the country dealing with a lack of affordable housing and related services.

“There are so many schools and school districts that have underutilized property in the form of vacant schools or the land underneath,” said Maria Evans, vice president of sustainable communities partnerships for Fannie Mae.

“What we liked was they worked with a school that had identified they had real estate in their portfolio that was underutilized and looked at how they could use that to not only expand educational opportunities for local children but also add affordable housing in that community to help people who may be overpaying for rent in another part of the community. There are lots of school districts who could learn from and be inspired by the work that they’re doing in Austin to look at their real estate portfolios and figure out what’s the highest and best use of the land for our community.”

Rachel Stone, assistant executive director of GNDC, said the project will be paid for with a combination of tax credits, private debt, federal housing funding and possibly some of Austin’s bond money for affordable housing. The nonprofit is pursuing other partnerships similar to the Escuela Nueva project that let it bring its experience in creating affordable housing into play on existing real estate assets.

Stone said the school had considered offers to sell its property for redevelopment as housing but those offers wouldn’t have paid enough for the school to relocate elsewhere in the fast-growing neighborhood.

“Instead, we’re partnering with them to expand their current pre-K with a state-of-the-art education center, and it’ll have a lot of amenities,” she said.“They’re getting expertise to help them build out a new school, financing, technical assistance, design and development. A lot of nonprofit partners may be looking to do expansions and upgrades and don’t want to have to be their own developer so they’re getting us to capitalize on being experts in affordable housing development. And we can bring that to a community partner instead of the partner having to become an expert at something that’s not their area.”

In addition to the Escuela Nueva project, GNDC is also working on adding 10 new net-zero energy homes to its Guadalupe Saldaña subdivision and adding infill units to other projects in East Austin.

Stone said the senior living component for the Escuela Nueva campus will bring positive intergenerational interactions to the school, and offer needed housing to longtime residents who may be under pressure to relocate.

“A lot of the senior housing for people who have been there for a long time, it’s in need of repair but because of the cost burdens those seniors aren’t able to do a lot with their homes,” she said. “We want to offer senior units so they’re able to stay in the neighborhood, so they can be aging in place and not be relocated to senior housing far away from where they spent most of their adult life.”

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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