Cardinal Point to be voted on today, State Rep. Howard endorses

By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News

There is an Austin City Council vote coming up on Thursday and a majority vote would give Foundation Communities the go-ahead with its plans to build an affordable housing apartment complex with 125 units off of Four Points Drive. If approved, the project would break ground next year and likely open summer 2017.

The project called Cardinal Point would be built in State Rep. Donna Howard’s District 48.


Donna Howard

Howard is in favor of the project. She said that Foundation Communities has a long history of developing quality housing and educational services in Austin with more than 1,500 units, and that Cardinal Point would meet a need in a high-opportunity area of Northwest Austin.

“This new apartment community will create a rare affordable rental option for families that want to live and work in the Four Points area,” Howard stated last week. “I am proud to support the project’s TDHCA (Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs) application, and will be submitting a letter of endorsement to the department.”

But not everyone supports the project. City Council Member Don Zimmerman, District 6, is against it.

Don Zimmerman

Don Zimmerman

“Barring a natural disaster, there is no way a democrat city council is going to vote (against Cardinal Point). It is part of their agenda,” said Zimmerman, who added that he will vote against it.

City County agenda

The Foundation Communities’ Cardinal Point project is item 21 out of 85 on the city council agenda for its regular meeting on Feb. 12.

The agenda item states: Approve a resolution authorizing a loan in an amount not to exceed $1,875,000 to Foundation Communities, Inc. or an affiliate, for a proposed rental development, to be known as Cardinal Point Apartments, located at 11011 1/2 Four Points Drive, with the loan being conditioned upon the award of tax credits to Foundation Communities, Inc. by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for the proposed project.

Zimmerman opposes

Zimmerman, who took office after the first of the year, was notified on Jan. 7 about the Foundation Communities’ proposal for Four Points Drive.

“We started at zero and spent a couple of weeks on the issue and poured a lot of research into this,” Zimmerman said. “Digging into this one issue takes a lot of due diligence and absolutely buries you.”

But, he added, this is the way business is done at city council. There are dozens of items on the agenda and there is time to do due diligence on maybe 10 items each time.

In the past several days, Zimmerman sent letters to lawmakers and representatives including Howard stating that according to comments from hundreds of constituents opposing the project, the primary reasons for opposing it are:

  • This subsidized housing project does not meet the critical requirement of being within ½ mile of mass transit;
  • Traffic congestion is already at outrageous levels; constituents demand that we apply public funds for congestion relief prior to offering public funds to subsidize more dense housing;
  • There is a critical lawsuit pending at the US Supreme Court (Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs vs Inclusive Communities Project) which deals with the question of “disparate impact”; the finding of this case could affirm or alter policy regarding suitable neighborhoods for these subsidized housing projects.

Howard supports

But Howard was not swayed to change her mind. Her response included the following points:

  • First, it is my understanding that the Cardinal Point site lies less than a mile away from a Capital Metro bus stop at the local H-E-B. The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) has no transit proximity requirements in their application guidelines, and lat year the Austin City Council specifically exempted 9 percent housing tax credit communities from transit proximity requirements under their SMART Housing criteria.
  • With regard to traffic congestion, I fully recognize that this is an issue that needs to be addressed in the area. However, in the absence of a full moratorium on development – an unrealistic option with zero support – there is no reason to believe that traffic will be lightened by a rejection of the Cardinal Point project. Indeed, it is my belief that the project will actually help to ameliorate congestion, as it should provide an affordable housing option for some employees of low-wage jobs in the region, thereby reducing car-trips. It is also worth noting that the federal housing tax credit funds awarded by TDHCA cannot be reallocated to fund transit projects.
  • Concerning the pending Supreme Court case which you cite, it is my understanding that it has no bearing on the current process. The 2015 allocation process has already been approved by Governor Rick Perry’s Office; it is not subject to change based on the outcome of the case, though the court’s decision may have an effect on the 2016 allocation process.

Project scoring

With Howard’s endorsement, Zimmerman said that he has done all that he can to stop the project.

“I’ve done everything I can think of doing. I don’t see any way of stopping it,” Zimmerman said. “My voice doesn’t matter (with the scoring system in place).”

The reason Zimmerman sent a letter to Howard is that she was the only person who could potentially impact the vote with a negative score ultimately against how the project is funded because only a state representative can score such things.

Zimmerman is proposing a legislative resolution to change the scoring system and allow additional elected representatives to affect scoring.

“During our research of the money trail for subsidized housing projects and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) scoring system for awarding federal subsidies, we discovered that the only elected officials who can affect scoring — both favorably and unfavorably — are state representatives covering the property where the project is proposed to be located,” Zimmerman said.

He found that under current rules, if a state representative writes a letter of support for the project, +8 points are awarded; for no letter, 0 points, and for an opposition letter, -8 points. Letters from a local city council representative, county commissioner or municipal utility directors have no such impact on scoring.

Zimmerman found another scoring complication in the case of Cardinal Point. He states that the vast majority of constituents strongly opposed to the project are represented by State Rep. Paul Workman, District 47, however, the project property itself is located on the other side of RM 2222 from River Place and is in Howard’s district.

“Rep. Workman’s office, which represents River Place constituents, correctly points out that they can’t issue any letter regarding the project scoring. Rep. Howard’s office could, but that office does not represent the River Place constituents,” Zimmerman said.

In the best case scenario, if  the resolution passes to change the scoring system, it might affect projects possibly as soon as next year, Zimmerman said.

Foundation Communities likely a go

At this point, Zimmerman is not sure if Foundation Communities could be stopped in Four Points. They have several full time employees “promoting and helping pushing these projects through,” he added.

“I don’t see how to change Donna Howard’s mind, how to change existing city council member minds, and how to score the project differently,” he said.