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Over 200 affordable homes planned on city-owned property in East Austin 

Friday, March 11, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

An affordable housing project called the Libertad is set to bring over 200 affordable homes to city-owned property in East Austin. 

The project at 900 Gardner Road will be built on a vacant, 8.5-acre slice of a larger property that is home to the Austin Animal Center, among other city organizations, as well as nonprofit Emancipet. 

The project came before the Planning Commission Tuesday to ask for a zoning change from Public (P) to Community Commercial-Mixed-Use (GR-MU) zoning, which the commission unanimously recommended.

“I think (the project) moves forward a lot of the goals that we want to meet around affordable housing … and providing the community benefits that we need on our public land assets,” Commissioner Awais Azhar said. 

While the exact number of units is in flux, current plans call for 198 rental units, all of which will be affordable to those making between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income. Twenty-six ownership units are also planned, though an affordability breakdown is not available. There will be a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

“This is very much going to be a family-oriented community,” said Conor Kenny, representing the project before the commission. 

The project will also provide homes for those experiencing homelessness, with 60 units dedicated to homelessness response and 25 units set aside for veterans at risk of homelessness.

Current plans show the rental units located in three separate buildings and the ownership units spread across 13 duplexes. Planned amenities include a walking trail, sports courts and a barbecue pit. 

The Austin Housing Finance Corporation, an arm of the city that builds affordable housing, owns the property and is guiding the development with the help of nonprofits Vecino Group, Caritas of Austin and the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation.

The commission spent some time addressing concerns from a neighbor opposed to the project. Wendy Greiner said she feared increased traffic and flooding and called the project “overbuilt.” She also argued that there are better city-owned sites for affordable housing. “I’m just asking that you guys consider reducing the number of units if you can’t consider moving to another location,” she said.

Commissioners hoped to ease the neighbor’s concerns by pointing out that parking will be provided on-site and that some of the future residents may not own cars.  

The project was originally planned on a smaller portion of the site, but a potentially hazardous use at a Whole Foods Distribution Center across the street caused the city to increase the project’s area by 2 acres to ensure future homes are at safe distance. According to the Austin Fire Department, the distribution center handles materials that could be dangerous in case of a fire. 

It is now up to City Council to approve the zoning change. If the change is approved as expected, the biggest task before construction can begin will be securing financing – “a moving target these days for affordable housing,” Kenny said, adding that the team will “come up with a configuration that needs as little public support as possible.”

Map courtesy of the Vecino Group.

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