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Commissioners review public improvement district policy options

Friday, November 4, 2022 by Seth Smalley

The Travis County Commissioners Court approved revisions to County Code Chapter 481, the county’s public improvement district policy, on Tuesday. Notable updates to the policy included required on-site community benefits in every public improvement district, in addition to required affordability goals for commercial and residential properties.

Christy Moffett, director of economic and strategic investments with the Planning and Budget Office, updated commissioners on the PID policy revision options. The alternatives were based on court suggestions following a similar presentation in July.

“You indicated to us that affordability of housing was highly important to you, as well as making sure that people who live there have a sense of place and access to different community benefits,“ Moffett said. “And also to provide flexibility in the policy.”

Each PID will now have electric vehicle charging stations, scalable broadband, and an amenities center with Wi-Fi and emergency power. Moffett also said PIDs will have community benefit fees of 15 percent, 5 percent higher than the current policy.

The amenities centers with emergency power can serve as refuges of last resort, Moffett pointed out, in case of disasters.

Moffett mentioned that stakeholder interest in (and influence of) the PID policy varied: While some were advocating for affordability and benefits, others were more interested in developments’ forward motion.

“I think it’s important to just say that there are a lot of varying interests around this policy. We have interest from some community stakeholders who want us to get deeply affordable housing and want us to be able to get as many community benefits as possible,” Moffett said. “And then we also have the developer community, who has asked us to balance that so that deals can pencil, and they can move forward and still provide an appropriate and affordable product.”

The Planning and Budget Office suggested PIDs’ housing affordability levels range from 50 percent of the area median income to 140 percent of the area median income.

“I realize that sounds like a lot to assist people who are making a substantive amount of over $100,000,” Moffett said, justifying the decision to include up to 140 percent AMI in the range by suggesting increased homeownership among high earners would free up some of the stress on the rental market.

“We should use this tool as aggressively as we can to get more homes on the ground that are more affordable than what the market is creating,” Commissioner Brigid Shea said.

Shea also mentioned the possibility of placing restrictive covenants on PIDs to prevent investors from snatching up homes.

“What I want to concentrate on is of course the affordability. Make sure there’s some real affordability for folks,” Commissioner Margaret Gómez said.

Some public commenters suggested including additional benefits like child care access. Others requested lowering the AMI range, drawing attention to the equity issues in current PID policy proposal, pointing out different demographics have different AMIs.

PBO suggested a public comment period for lifting the PID application moratorium period until Nov. 9, though Shea wanted it extended past that.

“We’d like to receive comments from internal and external stakeholders,” Moffett said regarding the application moratorium. “People can request a meeting with us to talk through things.”

Photo by Ken Fields, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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