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.”
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.