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Hancock project to house the homeless sails through Planning Commission

Thursday, May 26, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

The Planning Commission unanimously supported a zoning change Tuesday that would allow the construction of housing for people exiting homelessness in the Hancock neighborhood. 

A group of affordable housing developers hopes to rezone three lots at 1004-1008 E. 39th St. to Multifamily-Moderate Density (MF-4-NP) in order to build 100 units of permanent supportive housing, an arrangement where tenants remain long term and have access to on-site support services. 

“This project helps answer the need for the most vulnerable that we see in Austin, those that we see struggling to find stable housing as we drive through our great city,” said Megan Lasch with Saigebrook Development and O-SDA Industries.

The project, called Cady Lofts, is proposed as a three- and four-story building with studio apartments. The development team includes Austin Affordable Housing Corporation and SGI Ventures as developers, and New Hope Housing, Saigebrook Development and O-SDA Industries as consultants. AAHC is a nonprofit affiliated with the city of Austin. 

Even without the rezoning, the project would likely get built anyway – just with six stories instead of four – using Affordability Unlocked, a program that waives parking and compatibility requirements for affordable housing. But Lasch said that’s not ideal. Building taller is more expensive, and a shorter building fits better with adjacent single-family homes, she said.

Cady Lofts has a good shot at receiving the competitive 9 percent tax credits that the state doles out. The project scores top in its region partly because there aren’t any similar projects nearby. Few affordable housing projects get built west of Interstate 35 due in part to high land values and well-organized neighborhood opposition.

At the last Planning Commission meeting, the Hancock Neighborhood Association requested a lengthy postponement that, if approved, could have jeopardized the tax credit application and the project altogether. The commission instead granted a two-week postponement. The neighborhood association opposes the project, with 87.5 percent of members voting against.

Because of efforts by advocacy group Austin Justice Coalition, more people spoke in favor on Tuesday than against – a rarity in rezonings. “I want to send a very clear message to every neighborhood in Austin today: We are prepared to stand up and fight for (permanent supportive housing),” João Paulo Connolly, organizing director of AJC, said. 

Chris Baker, executive director of homelessness aid provider the Other Ones Foundation, expressed exasperation at the opposition to the project. “The whole notion that there would be people in this community that would come out in opposition of housing for our brothers and sisters that are living on the street, when we as a city have collectively decided that we are going to make it illegal for people to live outside, is beyond the pale,” Baker said.

A statement by the Austin Justice Coalition in support of the project was signed by many organizations, advocates and politicians, including Mayor Steve Adler and all City Council members except Mackenzie Kelly, Kathie Tovo and Alison Alter. The project is in Tovo’s District 9. 

Neighbors opposed to the rezoning said they needed more time to assess how the project would impact them. 

“The need for experts is apparent here on our side, that we need to do our due diligence and research the issues,” HNA President Coan Dillahunty said. “Not because we’re opposed to this project or public supportive housing, but we have real concerns about it working in our neighborhood and being safe for the neighborhood and the future tenants.”

Dillahunty said neighbors may hire legal counsel “to see if there’s a violation of (state law related to) spot zoning or contract zoning.”

Lasch said she has tried to address neighbors’ concerns since January.

After questions and discussion from commissioners, members voted unanimously in favor of the zoning change.

“It’s a lot of density for the site, but I have a lot of confidence in the detail and the attention that’s being given to each piece,” said Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido, who made the motion. 

Commissioner Greg Anderson applauded those who spoke in favor of the project. “There’s always excuses against housing. But I’ve heard a lot of pro voices for housing today, and that was really, really wonderful.”

City Council is set to vote on the case June 9.

Rendering of Cady Lofts, courtesy of Saigebrook Development.

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