Austin City Council voted Aug. 26 to move forward with funding for several affordable housing projects, including townhomes, a facility for people exiting homelessness and land acquisitions for future developments. The items were approved during a regular meeting of the Austin Housing Finance Corp. board, which comprises council members. Five housing project loans backed by council are to be facilitated through a combination of city assistance programs and state and federal dollars. A total of three properties in East and Southeast Austin were also purchased to eventually turn into housing projects. The loan items stem from the city's Rental Housing Development Assistance and Ownership Housing Development Assistance initiatives and are those programs' final application approvals for fiscal year 2020-21.
Parker Apartments and Balcones Terrace

Parker Apartments from Foundation Communities, located on Parker Lane north of Oltorf Street, would include 135 apartments at 30%, 50% and 60% median family income, or MFI, levels. The city will provide up to a $4.1 million loan for the development. Foundation Communities Executive Director Walter Moreau said the project will move forward with support from the Parker United Methodist Church. Parker Apartments is set to include centers for child care and food sharing alongside immigration and health care offices to connect the complex with the surrounding area.

"On all our communities, when we build, we really become part of the neighborhood and the neighborhood association. Our learning centers and services are free and open to the neighborhood. That won’t be for a couple years, but we really look forward to having the immigration office there and our health programs and our learning center and fitness classes and being a real community asset," Moreau said.

Foundation Communities also plans to convert the 120-room TownePlace Suites hotel off MoPac in Northwest Austin into a permanent supportive housing facility called Balcones Terrace. Moreau said the nonprofit has been working for "a long time" to expand its homeless supportive housing programs. Balcones will open efficiency units at 30%, 40% and 50% MFI limits at the hotel. The city will provide up to a $16.13 million loan for the development. In recent months, the city has expanded its hotel and motel conversion strategy to provide bridge shelter and housing for people experiencing homelessness.

Mayor Steve Adler hailed the Foundation Communities project proposal as a "unique" and "really interesting" response to ongoing local efforts to address homelessness during the AHFC session.

“I want to make sure that as we move forward, that other operators consider following this direction and this example of Foundation Communities," Adler said.

Jamey May, acting housing and community development officer at the Austin Housing and Planning Department, also said the loan agreement with Foundation Communities represents the first to incorporate a third party's management of such a site.

"We’re trying to do kind of a multistep dance here so that we can make sure that the property gets acquired in a timely fashion, and then it can be operated at a low cost to the operator," May said. "It’s exciting to see this property come online because it is so necessary. Not only is it serving an extremely hard-to-use population, but it’s in partnership with one of our strongest partners in the affordable housing community."

June West and Saison North

June West from developer Saigebrook Development, a planned 80-unit apartment complex on West Koenig Lane, is designed with units at 30%, 50%, 60% and 80% MFI caps with up to a $1.4 million loan from the city.

Saison North from partner developer O-SDA Industries, a planned 116-unit apartment complex off North Capital of Texas Highway, will include units available at 30%, 50% and 60% MFI, as well as market-rate income limits. The city will provide up to a $3.2 million loan for the development.

May said a component of both the Saigebrook and O-SDA projects that city staff supported were their locations west of I-35, where affordable housing has historically been less present.

"That’s a huge leap forward in dispersing our affordable housing. One of the things that we try to promote is housing should be affordable and accessible throughout the city. How much you make in your paycheck should not determine where you have to live," May said.

O-SDA President Megan Lasch said both projects' locations were also the "most exciting" factors about the development. In addition to spreading out affordable housing inventory, she said she hopes the projects can serve as an example of successful higher-density infill redevelopment that also mitigates traffic in their areas.

"I think we’re starting to get steps in the right direction and getting affordable housing in other parts of town that could have a meaningful impact to the residents in their lives and how they operate on a daily basis because they’re able to live closer to where they work.," Lasch said.

Industry SoMa

In addition to those rental items, the lone ownership project on the AHFC agenda will bring 23 townhomes available at 80% MFI to South Central Austin off Menchaca Road. The city will provide up to a $1.84 million loan for the project from developer Industry Affordable on Keilbar Lane. The project represents Industry Affordable's first foray into the affordable housing space.

Members of the development team said their pivot came about during the COVID-19 given their desire to provide lower-cost housing options in Austin and was spurred in part by the available support from the city and the passage of the Project Connect transit expansion package last fall.

"We’re all gears go. We’re locking in on this vision, and super excited about it," said Michael Winningham with Industry Affordable. "It’s all been very worth it to get to this point of bringing a 100% affordable housing project to Austin and supplying that missing middle in Austin where it’s really needed."

May also highlighted the entry of a new company into the city's affordable housing programming as a goal staff continues to pursue amid the city's affordable housing push.

"They’re partnering with some experienced developers and experienced engineers that we’ve worked with in the past, but we’re always excited to see more players come to the table," he said. "It’s a win. So we’re really hoping that this can get constructed quickly and then the homes get sold because we know that we need them.”

Land purchases

In addition to the projects above, council members also voted for purchases of three properties located off of Manor Road and South Pleasant Valley Road for up to $2.85 million. A pair of properties off Pleasant Valley totaling 5.3 acres, 5900 S. Pleasant Valley Road and 5901 Drowsy Willow Trail, were acquired together for up to $2.05 million. To the north, the 2.59-acre property at 3511 Manor Road was acquired for up to $800,000. During the AHFC meeting, District 4 Council Member Greg Casar took time to highlight the land purchases as items having the potential to result in neighborhood-driven redevelopment projects in the future. The processes could play out along the same lines as those recently pushed for by him and District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool, Casar said.

“This is a really strong agenda," Casar said. "We’re going to be able to house hundreds of low-income people and many people experiencing homelessness as well, along with purchasing land that will be the future St. John developments or the future Ryan Drive developments, which used to take so long. But now that we have this strong land acquisition strategy, I think we’ll be able to do many more of them at scale in all parts of the city."

A timeline for the redevelopment of all three properties has yet to be determined by the city and may take several years. May said each site will go through its own request for proposal process based on desires of their surrounding communities collected through "extensive" outreach before requests for proposals are opened and future negotiations get underway.