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County gets scoop on supportive housing construction plans

Wednesday, September 28, 2022 by Seth Smalley

Last week, Health and Human Services updated the Commissioners Court on the Travis County Supportive Housing Initiative, a $110 million, American Rescue Plan Act-funded project to bring housing to very low-income residents. Much of the commissioners’ discussion centered on making sure that the county funding was going toward housing for tenants with track records of homelessness, making at or below 30 percent of the area median income.

About 1,530 of the units are funded by Travis County at an average cost of $76,917 per unit. HHS intends to serve 1,670 households in total with those units.

Including site partners – or development projects that will share land with initiative developments – 3,082 units will be built on land used by developments funded by the resolution, 37 percent of which will be for those at 30 percent area median income or under. Ten percent of those units will be for 31-60 percent AMI, 21 percent will be for 61-80 percent AMI, and the rest will be market rate.

“About half of those are being funded by the county,” said Pilar Sanchez, an executive with HHS.

Commissioner Brigid Shea was concerned that too much of the housing being built was market rate.

“As I understood, the intent was to provide housing for people who are chronically homeless,” Shea said. “And I’m surprised to see that 32 percent of the housing – almost a third of it – will be market rate: 971 units. That’s not what I had understood we were using our federal money for.”

Sanchez clarified that the market-rate units represented site partners, which were developers who were not being supported with funding from the supportive housing initiative.

“None of the Travis County funding, none of the ARPA funding, will be used for market-rate units,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez also explained the site partners were there to “make the funding work.”

“If you’ve got somebody that’s willing to donate the land and put market-rate units on part of that land, it makes it possible to build affordable units.”

Shea also sought clarification regarding the number of units being constructed.

“I also thought that our $110 million would generate approximately 2,000 units of housing for chronically homeless, so 1,152 is slower than I thought we were going,” she said, referring to the number of units being built at 30 percent AMI or below.

Commissioner Ann Howard said while the number of units at 80 percent AMI and below approaches that number, building 2,000 units (at or below 30 percent AMI) was never actually written into a resolution.

“From our very first resolution that we passed, when we added up the projected projects that we were funding, it was closer to this 1,152 figure,” Howard said.

During executive session, commissioners discussed with legal counsel whether it was necessary to conduct additional environmental reviews – NEPA permitting – before beginning construction.

No action was taken at that meeting.

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