Affordable housing debate continues

Updated March 10 at 4:22 p.m.

Affordable housing debate continuesAffordable housing continues to be a topic of debate in Georgetown among city leaders, residents and area developers since a December City Council decision to not move forward with a proposed workforce housing study.

“We all know that affordable housing is not an issue that is unique to Georgetown—not only is it a regional and state issue, it is a national issue and continues to be something that needs to be looked at,” Mayor Dale Ross said.

In November the Georgetown Housing Advisory Board approached the council to request funding for a comprehensive study to address affordable housing needs for workers, millennials and seniors making between $30,000 and $60,000 a year; however, the council denied the request at its Dec. 8 meeting citing concerns over the proposed approach to doing the study and its cost.

At the time Council Member Steve Fought said he was concerned with the “whole-hog approach.” Other council members agreed and said additional data needed to be gathered. The council denied the funding request Dec. 8.

Affordable housing debate continues“We need to have a comprehensive plan [that shows] in what locations do we need affordable housing and what it looks like to meet the needs [for our residents],” Ross said.

However, while city leaders are debating the city’s affordable and workforce housing needs, four developers approached the city in January seeking support for affordable housing projects going through the state’s housing tax credit, or HTC, bidding process.

Fought, who voted against resolutions of support for all five proposed developments, said he thought it was too soon to consider any proposals.

“I do want to make it clear: I am not against low-income housing,” he said. “In fact, the council committed in its visioning sessions that we would put affordable/workforce housing on the agenda and we would develop some policy guidance for it, and we need to do it, but … we are being asked to vote on proposals before we have been able to sit down and develop a reasonable policy.”

Affordable housing defined

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, housing expenses should be 30 percent or less of a household’s income to be considered affordable.

Affordable housing debate continuesBased on that definition, some city leaders say there is a deficit of affordable housing in Georgetown.

Georgetown Housing Coordinator Jennifer Bills said as area home prices and rents continue to increase some residents are unable to afford living in the area.

“There are barriers at every level of housing,” she said.

Eligibility for various affordable housing programs is determined by the area median income, or AMI. In the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Georgetown and the surrounding areas, the AMI for a family of four is $76,800. Rental programs are typically used to aid people making 30, 50 or 60 percent of the AMI, Bills said.
Affordable housing debate continues

Supporting some development

In February, City Council heard the five requests for City Council support for the proposed developments seeking the HTCs from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Three received resolutions of support from the council, and two were denied. Those awarded resolutions are proposed along Williams Drive and included Kaia Pointe and Live Oaks Apartments as well as Merritt Heritage, which would be restricted to residents age 55 and older. Cypress Creek at Georgetown Village and Mariposa at Georgetown Village—both being developed by Bonner Carrington—were presented at the Feb. 23 council meeting but did not receive resolutions of support.

The council was also required to approve a resolution acknowledging the number of tax credit housing units in Georgetown is more than double the state’s per capita amount.

Some council members questioned whether Georgetown should allow more tax credit units; however, Ross said that was something that should be studied.

“According to the state guidelines, we have more [tax credit housing]. … But is that good enough for the needs of the city?” he said. “I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all solution.”

The TDHCA awards federal tax credits throughout the state to developers to be used to help lower the rent for multifamily units to below fair market rates.

The resolutions of support are part of each development’s application for tax credits, which are scored based on a variety of criteria set each year by the Texas Legislature and the TDHCA, Bills said.

Five developments applied for HTCs in Region 7, which includes Georgetown. Of those, Bills said two to three are expected to be awarded credits.

Public comment

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The five requests were considered at two council meetings after several hours of public comment both in favor and opposed to the developments.
Among those in opposition, many cited concerns over traffic along Williams as well as safety and the possible effect the developments could have on area schools.

“The three current proposed projects are not located around any major employment centers or access to public transportation,” said resident Billy Kurtz, who serves as president of the Fountainwood Homeowners Association. “This will place an undo strain on an already burdened Williams Drive.”

Others were concerned about who would be moving into the developments; however, Kaia Pointe developer Megan Lasch said she expected many residents would be people already living and working in Georgetown.

“A lot of people fear that [this type of housing] brings crime, but it may be people who are paying too much on living expenses,” she said, adding that residents must pass a background check and there is a zero-tolerance policy.

Those in favor of the proposed developments said the council should create a city welcoming of all citizens.

“We have two Georgetowns in economic terms,” Georgetown resident Ron Swain said. “Those persons who live in the other Georgetown also need a place to live in Georgetown. … I believe that we can create a city where ‘all’ means ‘all.’”

Next steps

The TDHCA will review applications, and tax credits will be awarded in late July.

However, how city leaders should determine and address the city’s housing needs continues to be debated.

This spring the council is expected to discuss possible directives to the HAB for the board’s next steps during a City Council workshop, Ross said. The council could also discuss updating the housing plan included in the city’s comprehensive plan.

“Council is going to give the [HAB] direction on what they would like to see,” he said.

Ross said the council should also consider the economic impact of balancing housing affordability.

“As we continue to grow businesses, retail and restaurants, where are the employees going to come from, and could that negatively impact economic development?” Ross said. “I think there is some value to people living in Georgetown, working in Georgetown and becoming part of the fabric of our community.”

HAB Chairman Richard Glasco said the board is looking forward to receiving direction from council.

“Our charge hasn’t changed,” he said. “[The proposed] study was really what we thought was the best way to address the affordable housing issue here in Georgetown. … We need some kind of clear direction as to what the council wants for affordable housing.”

[Correction: The proposed tax credit housing map has been corrected to properly indicate the senior tax credit housing and tax credit housing developments. Mariposa at Georgetown Village and Merritt Heritage are the proposed senior tax credit housing developments.]


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