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Neighborhood association attempts to put kibosh on housing for the homeless

Monday, May 16, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

Advocates and city officials often say affordable housing is the key to ending homelessness. But as a rezoning case heard Tuesday at the Planning Commission showed, this type of housing can be hard to build, due in part to neighborhood opposition.

A group of affordable housing developers plans to turn three lots at 1004-1008 E. 39th St. into housing for people exiting homelessness. The project, called Cady Lofts, will have 100 units of permanent supportive housing, a setup where residents have access to on-site services and stay long-term.  

“We develop housing to try to help further the city of Austin’s goals to create high-quality affordable housing,” said Megan Lasch with local firm Saigebrook Development.

Rendering of Cady Lofts, courtesy of Saigebrook Development.

To build the project, the development team hopes to rezone the lots to Multifamily-Moderate Density (MF-4-CO-NP) with a 47-foot height limit. Two of the lots are currently zoned Limited Office (LO-NP) and the other is zoned Family Residence (SF-3-NP). The site is about 300 feet from Interstate 35. 

Lasch said the project doesn’t actually need a rezoning; a six-story building could be built on the lots zoned LO using Affordability Unlocked, a program that waives things like parking requirements and compatibility for affordable housing projects. “We’re really not wanting to do that,” Lasch said. With the rezoning, the project will be three and four stories. 

The Hancock Neighborhood Association asked the Planning Commission for a two-month postponement after 87.5 percent of its members voted to oppose the rezoning. HNA President Coan Dillahunty said the delay would allow time for “experts to review materials and prepare for the Planning Commission.” 

The problem is, a two-month postponement would likely kill the project. “Anything after May 24 simply puts the project at risk,” Lasch said, explaining that affordable housing projects financed with low-income housing tax credits must meet state-mandated deadlines. “We have to have our zoning in place,” she said.

In a resolution, the association opposed the project for several reasons, arguing that it is incompatible with single-family homes and that “premature densification in this area will hinder options for better use in the future.” Dillahunty also said there hasn’t been enough time to review the project, and that new information recently came up.

According to Lasch, the development team has met with the neighborhood association several times since February.

Several nonprofit groups wrote in support of the project, and Joao Paulo Connolly, an organizer with Austin Justice Coalition, spoke in favor Tuesday. “I just wanted to emphasize how important this case is to the community and that we have our eyes on this case,” he said. “We’re watching very closely, and any postponement that could potentially jeopardize the funding for this case is something that we take very seriously.”

The commission voted 11-0 to grant a two-week postponement, with commissioners Jennifer Mushtaler and Carmen Llanes Pulido abstaining. 

“Housing delayed is housing denied,” Commissioner Greg Anderson said. “Let’s hear this case in two weeks and not give another opportunity for someone to just postpone it.” 

The case comes back to the commission May 24, with a City Council hearing planned sometime in June.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here. This story has been changed since publication to reflect the fact that the developers are not nonprofits.

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