Buda City Council candidates debate affordable housing

Buda City Council Member Jose Montoya’s two challengers in the upcoming election made their positions known Oct. 20 on the issue of affordable housing in the city.

At an Oct. 20 forum candidates Basil Lombardo and David Nuckels said they oppose affordable housing initiatives in Buda even though the cost of housing in the city is rising; the average home value climbed 19 percent year-over-year, from $175,593 in 2014 to $209,601 in 2015, and city leaders, such as Mayor Todd Ruge, have said professionals such as teachers and police officers cannot afford to live in Buda.

“The thing that put me into the race was the day that … an overwhelming number of people in the community were against subsidized housing, and [the city was] pushing forward with it,” Lombardo said. “And we were pushing forward with it in an area where the traffic is already in question. And we also were pushing forward with it when we still have multiple questions concerning where we are going to be at with the water.”

Buda City Council voted 6-1 on Feb. 17 in favor of a resolution supporting The Pointe at Overlook, a 110-unit housing development at 645 FM 967, as well as a resolution of support to assist in the funding of the project. George Haehn, who is running unopposed for re-election to his Place 4 seat, was the sole council member to vote against the measure. The project was not recommended for approval by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, the state agency that disburses funds for the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.

The project would have comprised stand-alone housing units ranging from one to three bedrooms. People earning annual incomes between $14,537 and $48,900 would have been eligible to lease properties, according to a February presentation. Rents would have ranged from $342 to $1,047 a month, according to the presentation.

The firm developing the project, Picerne Development, had requested a $118,000 loan from the city had the funding come through from the federal program.

“The idea we would subsidize housing … doesn’t make any sense,” Haehn said at the candidates’ forum.

Montoya defended his position by saying support for the low-income housing development would not have cost the city and could have produced revenue in the form of interest on the loan. He also said the subject was the reason he was being opposed in the election.

“I do believe there is a need for it,” Montoya said of the federal program. “It’s a sad state of affairs when our teachers, employees, policemen can’t live in this town because there is no place they can afford to rent.”

Nuckels said he opposed the council’s February decision to support the project.

“I don’t think we need to change anything,” he said. “I’m against offering freebies or any kind of incentives to any kind of developer that wants to come in and produce something. We all worked hard to get here.”

Early voting in the city election began Oct. 19 and ends Oct. 30. For polling sites and other information visit the Hays County Elections Administrator website.