Low-income housing needs persist in Northwest Austin despite nearly 300 new units coming in 2020-21

Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
Peggy Wilson has lived in Northwest Austin for decades, but the 68-year-old said she recently had to take a part-time job at Chick-fil-A on RM 620 to be able to rent a room in someone else’s home.

Because she is on the Medicare Advantage Plan, Wilson said she is limited to how much money she can earn and takes in a couple of hundred dollars every two weeks.

“It’s been a struggle for me to be able to make it,” she said. “I would like to be able to afford my own apartment and not have to live with other adults.”

For seniors such as Wilson and other low-income residents, Northwest Austin has fewer low-income housing options than other parts of the city.

The city has recognized this need to provide more affordable housing for its residents and adopted its housing plan in 2017. This plan set a goal of creating 60,000 new affordable housing units available to households making $60,000 or less by 2027.

The city’s housing plan further details how those units would be spread more equitably throughout the city, including to bring nearly 27,000 units to City Council districts in the Northwest Austin area. If these units are built, it could mean residents such as Wilson could remain in Austin longer.

“It’s been home to me for almost 33 years,” Wilson said.

City officials hope to achieve these housing goals through the land-development code rewrite, for which staff released its initial draft in October. The proposed new code recommends expanding a density bonus program that offers developers greater density on a project in exchange for building a certain number of low-income units.

The draft code follows an ordinance council approved in May that relaxes regulations on affordable housing.

“The most significant thing that happened this year was that the council had some synergy, and they were really pretty unanimous in their effort to increase affordability,” said Nora Linares-Moeller, executive director of the affordable housing advocacy group HousingWorks Austin. “... We need to have people that can live near their work.”

A place to call home

Organizations such as Austin-based Foundation Communities are taking advantage of the state’s housing tax-credit program to build new low-income housing.

Foundation Communities Executive Director Walter Moreau said most of the nonprofit’s 24 properties are for households making 50% or less of the area median family income, or MFI. Some properties cater to single adults, including veterans.

From 2018-19, the area MFI for a family of four jumped 12% to $95,900, Moreau said. Next spring, the organization will break ground on its newest property called Laurel Creek, on North Lamar Boulevard north of Braker Lane, that will be geared toward working families, Moreau said.

“If a family is working full-time in Austin, they should still be able to live here,” he said. “That’s getting very hard to do. Laurel Creek is that critical housing for working families that are in the $30,000-$40,000 [household] income bracket, which is a really tight budget to rent a two-bedroom [unit].”

Over the past four years, more than 430 low-income housing units have opened in Northwest Austin, including Windy Ridge Apartments on RM 620 that offers both market-price units as well as units for individuals such as Todd McClure who qualify for low-income housing.

McClure, now in his early 50s, said he has been dealing with difficulties brought on by several degenerative discs in his back since he was 21.

For varying reasons—mainly, his worsening back condition over the last three decades—McClure said he is unemployed and seeking work in the service industry. Qualifying for low-income housing is a big help, even with a recent rent hike in July from $700 to $783 for his one-bedroom apartment.

“If it hadn’t been for the tax-credit program at Windy Ridge, I would have trouble making rent at current market prices,” McClure said. “A lot of that is due to the fact that current market values require that you make at least three times what rent costs, and being on disability makes that virtually impossible.”

Building challenges

Foundation Communities is one of several agencies that competes for the state’s 9% housing tax credit program to help fund its projects.

“Most of our funding for new developments comes from the tax-credit program, and it’s very competitive,” Moreau said.

Through the program, Foundation Communities partners with an investor, usually a bank, to build the project. Moreau said the bank can take $0.09 of every dollar of eligible construction costs per year for 10 years in credit against federal taxes the bank would pay. In exchange for receiving the credits, the organization must lower rents for renters making 60% or less of the area MFI, he said.

One of the organization’s biggest challenges is buying land for its projects because of the cost as well as finding locations that fit both the state’s criteria, such as proximity to jobs and quality schools, as well as the nonprofit’s values, Moreau said.

“Lately over the last five years they are really looking for locations that have higher income, lower poverty and no other affordable housing nearby,” he said. “When we built Cardinal Point and won the credits five years ago there was nothing affordable in that area.”

That property is located off Four Points Drive near RM 620 within a mile of about 500 low-wage jobs, such as at Target and H-E-B.

“We’ve tried to find those sweet spots where it’s a high-opportunity area to further our fair housing goal but still has transit connections,” he said.

Further roadblocks to building more affordable housing units include the city’s outdated land-development code and regulating plans that dictate zoning and design standards for areas such as The Domain and North-Burnet Gateway master plan, Linares-Moeller said.

These plans, she said, lack consistency on incentivizing developers to add affordable housing in their projects.

“If they could at least do the land-development code and get it the way everybody feels is the right way to get to the [goals] and put more affordable housing on the ground, then it would be easier to bring in the regulating plans later and change those,” •she said.

Additional reporting by Brian Rash.


Austin City Hall (Christopher Neely/Community impact Newspaper)
Some on Austin City Council want more of its $272 million coronavirus relief package to go to residents in need

City Council will determine how much to put toward direct financial assistance at its June 4 meeting.

Candidates in the Senate District 14 special election responded to Community Impact Newspaper's questions about their campaigns to fill the vacant seat in the Texas Senate. (Design by Shelby Savage/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Senate District 14 candidates discuss the issues ahead of July 14 election

There are six candidates running in the special election to fill the seat of former Sen. Kirk Watson through 2022.

Parkfield Drive at Norseman Terrace
City outlines plans for 3 North Austin roadway projects to increase mobility, pedestrian safety

Plans and timelines for three separate North Austin transportation projects are now available to review online.

Travis County judge pushes back against attorney general's reprimand of stay-at-home order

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe responded to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's warning that county coronavirus orders conflicted with the state's.

Take a look at how coronavirus impacted Williamson County this week. (Chance Flowers/Community Impact Newspaper)
Take a look at how coronavirus impacted Williamson County this week

The county reported 596 total cases on May 29.

The Williamson County small-business grant program has issued more than $18.5 million as of May 29. (Ali Linan/Community Impact)
Williamson County small-business grant program issues more than $18.5 million

The program has aided more than 1,600 local businesses.

Volunteers load cars at a distribution event in South Austin on May 28. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Six food distribution events scheduled by Central Texas Food Bank in June

Residents who face food insecurities can drive up with their vehicles for no-contact pickup.

Cap Metro and its community partners have combined to delivery more than 300,000 meals to community members in need. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Capital Metro, community partners deliver more than 300K meals to community

The public transportation agency is teaming up with businesses and nonprofits to provide meals for those in need.

Williamson County and Cities Health District reported eight new cases of coronavirus May 29, bringing the county total to 596. (Screenshot courtesy Williamson County)
1 death and 8 new confirmed cases of coronavirus reported May 29 in Williamson County

Williamson County and Cities Health District reported the total number of cases at 596.

The Austin Central Library will reopen after it was closed for more than two months to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (John Cox/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin libraries, in-person pet adoptions to begin reopening June 1

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department will begin opening amenities, but there is no date set to open Barton Springs Pool.

(Courtesy Fotolia)
New school schedules and a road opening: Latest news from Central Texas

Read the latest news from Community Impact Newspaper's coverage of the Central Texas area.

A photo of the Travis County headquarters sign
Austin Public Health officials say they plan to increase support to Latino community, where coronavirus hospitalizations are up

As of May 26, 76 Hispanic individuals in Travis County were hospitalized with COVID-19, representing around 78% of all hospitalizations.