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County, nonprofits prepare to administer supportive housing resolution

Tuesday, May 17, 2022 by Seth Smalley

The Travis County Commissioners Court met for a work session Thursday to review the ongoing, federally funded affordable housing initiatives in the Austin area.

Multiple nonprofits are preparing to build supportive housing in Travis County using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, earmarked for use by commissioners last year. The nine groups – the Other Ones Foundation, Mobile Loaves and Fishes, Foundation Communities, Austin Area Urban League, Caritas of Austin, Family Eldercare, Integral Care, LifeWorks and the SAFE Alliance – presented their progress and goals to the commissioners, including the number of affordable housing units slated for the area and timelines of construction.

The county’s overarching goal is to create 2,892 total units, 1,101 of which will be dedicated solely to the homelessness response. Of those, 2,049 are slated to be affordable – geared toward those making 80 percent of the the area median income or less – while 849 of the new units, or 29 percent, will be market-rate.

“We are doing our best to move as quickly as we can to keep these projects moving,” Lawrence Lyman, division director of county Health and Human Services, said. “I apologize for being a broken record on this, but this is complicated. We’re just trying to learn the interaction of multiple funding streams.”

The affordable housing projects are receiving local fiscal recovery funds – a section of ARPA funds designated to help state and local governments respond to the pandemic – not just from the county, but from the city as well.

Lyman pointed out several achievements moving the county closer to meeting its goals, starting with last September’s vote to approve the supportive housing resolution. Most of the progress Lyman mentioned revolved around getting past administrative and programmatic hurdles.

Commissioner Ann Howard also brought up the disparate impact of homelessness on the Black community.

ECHO’s 2021 report on racial disparities, Howard noted, contained “multiple pillars to address discrimination, and we haven’t really been able to shrink this 40 percent of the population experiencing homelessness (and) being Black in Austin. And we all know, that’s like four or five times larger than the general population.”

Howard said that, while she didn’t want to hold the groups present to a standard that the county doesn’t hold other nonprofits to, she wanted to work with the groups so they could take the lead on the issue.

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