Austin's City Council District 3 representative is pushing to bring a new affordable housing project to an environmentally sensitive East Austin site decades after the city first acquired it.

The background

The property in question, 4800-4906 Bolm Road, is located off Airport Boulevard and the MoKan trail and railroad track. Before the city purchased the land through eminent domain proceedings, it was last owned by a waste processing company that operated a recycling plant there.

Austin's condemnation of the Bolm Road site in 1999 came as the city was engaged in a "concerted effort" to reverse longstanding effects of environmental racism on the east side, according to a resolution from Council Member José Velásquez, whose District 3 includes the property.

Some industrial sites known to have brought negative health and quality of life effects to surrounding neighborhoods were shuttered in the 1990s, including the toxic tank farm site located across the street at Airport and Springdale Road. That property is now home to a multistory office project and may soon see more development.

Austin has owned the Bolm Road site since 2000. More recently, the city's economic development department identified the property as one that could be converted into a new mixed-use residential and commercial project with extensive affordable housing.

In his resolution up for consideration April 13, Velásquez said Austin should target families earning below 60% of the local median family income, or MFI, to ensure working-class residents can access any new housing options there. The Austin-Round Rock area's MFI is $110,300 for a family of four; 60% is $66,180.

"It's no secret that Austin is facing a housing affordability crisis, and the city is taking active steps to address this every chance we get. As we continue to address this crisis, I think we need to redefine the term 'affordability,'" Velásquez said in a statement. "District 3 is seeing firsthand how 'affordable' units are no longer that affordable for lower to lower-middle income residents of Austin, not to mention how many of these affordable units fail to provide enough space for families. As a result, we see displacement and low enrollment in our schools."

Environmental review

Thanks to the Bolm Road site's history as a recycling plant, the process of bringing new residents to what used to be an industrial complex would not be as straightforward as a typical redevelopment.

In his resolution, Velásquez stated that a 2021 environmental review found groundwater contamination at the site that prompted the city to take on an investigation, cleanup and ongoing monitoring. Austin is now awaiting further review by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to be able to bring housing to the property, although that TCEQ certification is not expected until this fall at the earliest.

Despite those additional hurdles, Velásquez said he was recently informed by Austin Resource Recovery that any additional cleanup requirements for the site are unlikely to require "significant investment," meaning redevelopment could be closer than expected without a need for more city funding.

"We were excited to hear this news because this means that creating affordable housing at this site is more within reach than we initially expected," he said.

Next steps

Pending the TCEQ review, the resolution from Velásquez directs city management to prioritize planning for deeply affordable housing at the Bolm Road site. The request asks to target adding many 60% MFI units as well as more two- and three-bedroom spaces for families.

The city's consideration of a new affordable housing project on the property comes months after council signed off on a separate measure about the site from District 3's last representative, Pio Renteria. Renteria's resolution called for the preservation of the city-supported, 900-foot Bolm Road mural located there as part of any future development plans.
The Bolm Road site features a community mural that City Council pushed to preserve last year. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact)
The community mural is displayed along Bolm Road.