Thursday, January 14, 2021 by Seth Smalley

County endorses Decker Lake affordable housing project

The Travis County Commissioners Court held a public hearing Tuesday regarding a developer’s application for a Resolution of No Objection for the Decker Lake Apartments, which, if approved, will be located on Decker Lake Road, adjacent to the Travis County Expo Center.

Though the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the resolution, recently elected Commissioner Ann Howard raised questions about the proportion of “deeply affordable” units in the complex.

“I’m always going to be looking to see how deeply affordable the units are, because there’s probably a tax partnership on this project. So when I see just 5 percent at 30 percent and below, it’s always going to be a question for me,” Howard said, referring to the relatively scant number of units intended for households that make 30 percent of the median family income. “I always want to make sure when we bring public dollars to development that the rents will be deeply affordable for the most people.”

Monique Coleman with the county’s Community Development Block Grant program presented information on the RONO proposal by the developer, AmTEX Multi-Housing LLC. According to Coleman, the development meets several criteria for the county’s fair housing goals, including its location in an area with “moderate to low opportunity,” and its majority low- to moderate-income populace. The closest high-frequency bus route is one mile away.

The project, if approved, would establish 275 affordable housing units in total. Five percent of the units, 14 out of 275, are intended for households earning 30 percent of the area’s median family income, while the remaining 261 units are intended for households earning 60 percent of the MFI.

The development would be located one mile from the expo center, five miles from the to-be-constructed Tesla plant and eight miles from the Mueller Regional Retail Center, where residents would be able to access all their basic necessities.

“Staff is not opposed to the Resolution of No Objection, but additionally recommends on-site tutoring as well as free shuttle service to the bus stop,” Coleman said, concluding her presentation and opening up discussion to the Commissioners Court.

Commissioner Jeff Travillion expressed his approval for the development.

“When I look at the types of outreach they’ve made, when I look at the types of things they’re going to put on-site, when I look at the way that the area is growing – we’re certain it will be a fairly high-opportunity area within a short period of time – I think it will be a wise investment, which is why I’m supporting it.”

Commissioner Brigid Shea echoed Howard’s sentiments.

“In some cases, a property becomes completely tax-exempt when we partner with it. The value of the exempted property taxes can, at times, be $15 million or more. And if that’s the case with this project, we are giving a thing of great value to the developer, and I think we should get more than the 5 percent deeply affordable units,” Shea said. She pointed out that the developer would still see significant rental revenue from the 60 percent median family income units.

Blake Hopkins, representing the developer, called in to address some of the questions on the economics of the project.

“Since the project is only 275 units, we don’t receive that additional boost in the tax credit, and the reason why we have the 5 percent at 30 percent,” Hopkins said, noting the existence of changes in the tax-credit program in 2021 that could make deeper affordability possible.

“We certainly would be very open to going back and working with the housing finance corporation, our partners, and seeing if we can get some deeper affordability.”

Shea requested the value of the forgone property tax payments over 10 years, noting that developers in general partnerships with the county typically provide this information to the Commissioners Court.

“We’re putting an enormous amount of money in the pot to try to get us to more affordable – and I’d like to see more than 5 percent. I think it’s achievable. At some point the community’s going to look at all the millions of dollars of forgone property taxes and say, really? What did we get for this? Five percent of affordable housing? We have to do more with this.”

Travillion voiced his agreement with Shea and Howard, in addition to emphasizing the importance of community services for the development on-site.

Photo by Joe Mabel, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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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.

Travis County Commissioners Court: The legislative body for Travis County. It includes representatives from the four Travis County Precincts, as well as the County Judge. The County Judge serves as the chair of the Court.

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