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Council OKs $22 million in low-income housing bonds

Friday, March 26, 2021 by Jo Clifton

After hearing complaints Thursday from several of her constituents, District 2 City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes announced during Council’s meeting as the board of the Austin Housing Finance Corporation that she would vote against bond funding for a 179-unit, low-income, multifamily housing complex.

Back in November 2019, before Fuentes joined City Council, Council acting as the AHFC board approved a $4 million loan agreement with McDowell Housing Partners for developing the multifamily property at 4400 Nuckols Crossing Road.

Council held a public hearing on March 4 of this year on the question of issuing $22 million in tax-exempt multifamily housing revenue bonds to provide for development of the project, which is called City Heights. Fuentes discussed concerns about traffic in the area and Council Member Ann Kitchen indicated that she would help make sure there would be enough money to resolve those issues.

On Thursday, while acting as the AHFC board, Council ultimately approved issuing the bonds to provide for development of the project. Council members Leslie Pool and Mackenzie Kelly joined Fuentes in voting against the project. Council Member Alison Alter abstained, so the final vote was 7-3-1.

The developer, MHP City Heights Ltd., is an affiliate of McDowell Housing Partners. Sarah Andre, representing the developer, explained that putting together such a project is not easy. Developers had already invested two years in moving the project toward the finish line.

The project is designed to be affordable for seniors in households earning at or below 80 percent of the Austin median family income. Some area residents objected to the multifamily project, stressing that the area’s streets are unsafe.

Ana Aguirre complained that Nuckols Crossing is a substandard road with missing pavement and no public transportation. She said the project would be the fifth low-income housing project built in the area since the 1980s. Although citizens approved transportation bonds, including a study of Nuckols Crossing, she said the neighborhood has still not heard a date for that study to begin. While she thanked Fuentes and her staff for pulling together staff from other departments to work on the project, she nevertheless urged Council to reject it.

Fuentes knew when she announced her “no” vote that her colleagues had already offered numerous approvals for the project, so she did not necessarily expect them to change their votes. However, she said she would continue to work with city staff to resolve any traffic and environmental problems that might be associated with the development.

Kitchen said she understood, but it was too important to her to provide housing for low-income seniors. Along with Fuentes and city staff, Kitchen outlined a lengthy list of traffic improvements for Nuckols Crossing Road. These include widening the road from 26 to 40 feet, sidewalks, a dedicated turn lane, pavement improvement, signage, a preliminary engineering study and a four-way stop.

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