Mary Lee Square, an affordable housing complex off South Lamar Boulevard, is slated to be completed by 2027, offering housing and a variety of community services for low-income households or people with disabilities.

Foundation Communities and the Mary Lee Foundation, both Austin-based nonprofits that provide affordable housing services, are redeveloping the MLF’s 8-acre campus with affordable units for households at or below 60% of the area median income.

Austin City Council approved a bond inducement for the project on Sept. 21, which will allow the foundations to apply for state housing project funds to finance the redevelopment.

The background

Executive director of Foundation Communities Walter Moreau said the existing MLF campus serves about 240 people, 40 of whom have intellectual disabilities and are living on low incomes.

Ten of the 14 buildings on the campus are said to be in poor condition or vacant, according to Foundation Communities officials, and the site has the capacity to serve “triple the number of people.”

The details

Mary Lee Square is set to be built across three phases and will ultimately add more housing and community space for over 500 residents to the MLF campus.

Moreau said the first phase of the project includes one new building and renovating two existing buildings—the Willows and the Legacy—bringing 175 units with studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom options.

Phase 2 will add a few hundred more units, and future buildings will have more two- and three-bedroom units, something Moreau said is “super rare” for multifamily developments in the Zilker area.

Depending on funding, there could also be a preference in some units for musician tenants, given the site’s proximity to local music venues. The campus will also keep a preference for at least 10% of the units to keep people with disabilities on-site.

“One of the visions is that the campus becomes a really integrated community. It’s not just people with disabilities, but there’s families with kids and musicians,” Moreau said. “ ... Some groups can be actually very isolating. So, I think there’s a lot of thinking in the disability community about, ‘How do we design with a disability-forward vision that is integrated and not isolated?’”

Along with housing, the updated campus will include:
  • A learning center for adult education, out-of-school youth programming and fitness
  • On-site case management
  • Physical therapy and a day rehab center
  • A food pantry
  • Green space with family-friendly outdoor amenities

The breakdown

Endeavor Real Estate Group, which is redeveloping the former Austin American-Statesman property off South Congress Avenue, is expected to deposit $23.2 million into the Austin Housing Trust Fund in lieu of building affordable units. Per city ordinance, the city is now required to invest those dollars within a 1.5-mile radius of the Statesman project site—which the MLF campus is within.

“We’re counting on $23 million from the Endeavor Statesman project,” Moreau said, adding that he is unsure when the group is moving ahead on its project, but that the funding to the campus could be paid once its Barton Springs Road extension is completed.

Looking ahead

Construction on Phase 1 could begin by late 2024 or 2025, Moreau said. After the first phase is complete, residents will be relocated to those units so the older buildings can be demolished and the other phases can be completed.

“It’s wonderful that we have really affordable, service-rich programs in the heart of the city, because South Lamar is so good for transit and jobs and services,” Moreau said. “People really love living there. It’s just [that] the buildings are falling down.”

Ben Thompson contributed to this report.