Austin City Council OKs searching for affordable housing funds

Near-term affordable housing projects and programs in Austin may receive some city funding after Austin City Council directed City Manager Marc Ott to identify possible resources of up to $10 million during the Dec. 13 council meeting.

Councilwoman Kathie Tovo said she feels that finding additional funding for supportive housing developments and programs, including home repair programs, will have a long-term financial benefit for the city because it is much less expensive than providing assisted living.

"I think these are really critical programs for our community, and I think we have a tremendous need for affordable housing, and we need to support it at the city level," Tovo said.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell said even though he supported the motion, he was concerned with where the city was going to find the funding, adding that he was reluctant to dip into reserves. Leffingwell also questioned spending money on projects that failed to receive funding from the Nov. 6 bond election. The housing bond failed to pass by 6,721 votes, with 114,749 votes for the proposition and 121,470 votes against it.

"I'm somewhat uncomfortable with the fact that here we are, about to spend money on a project, worthy though it may be, that has been rejected by voters," he said.

The city manager will come back to the council Jan. 23 with potential funding sources.

"We really want to take the time that we have to explore a range of options and to the extent that we can, identify some other creative approaches to doing this," Ott said.

Betsy Spencer, director of the city's Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department, said the $10 million cap in funding came from an evaluation of the immediate needs from projects the department had "in the pipeline." City staff also said the department had been consistently funding affordable housing projects and programs at the $8 million to $10 million level annually for about five years.

Councilman Mike Martinez said he believes whatever funding the city may find will come from multiple sources and underscored the need to find stable funding for affordable housing projects and programs.

"The sliver lining to the bond rejection, to me, is that in order to preserve a housing program that we really want to see in Austin, I think it's important for us to come up with true, dedicated funding streams so that we don't have to rely on the vote of the citizens with something that's such a critical component of creating affordability and maintaining our values and quality of life here in Austin," Martinez said.