By KIM ESTES, Four Points News
Affordable housing is on the minds of Four Points residents, as state officials will soon consider an application by Foundation Communities for construction of a local affordable housing project. The proposed 125-unit apartment complex is called Cardinal Point.
Council Member Sheri Gallo, District 10, and her office hosted a Town Hall Meeting on April 1 billed as a presentation on Affordable Housing: Dispelling the Myths. About 55 guests attended including residents from the local neighborhoods of River Place and The Preserve at Four Points, as well as guests from Long Canyon, Jester Estates, Oak Deer Park, and Anderson Mill.
Availability of more lower-cost housing would alleviate traffic congestion by reducing commute times to work, Gallo said. Additionally almost 60 percent of workers do not make enough to live in the city, she added, citing a statistic from Economic Modeling Specialists International, a labor market data company. (We did not get clarification from Gallo’s office by presstime as to what the study defines as workers.)
At the event, five panelists presented information and answered questions on availability, need, and management of affordable housing in Austin. Panelists included Karen Temborius with the Austin Apartment Association; Frances Ferguson with HousingWorks Austin, an affordable housing advocacy organization; and affordable housing developers, Theresa Ebner, LDG Development; Walter Moreau, Foundation Communities; and Janine Sisak, The DMA Companies.
Affordable housing is defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as “housing for which the occupant(s) is/are paying no more than 30 percent of his or her income for gross housing costs, including utilities”.
Following the meeting, about a dozen audience members reported they thought it was informative. Many, however, remained concerned about the impact of the developments on traffic, safety, and property values in their neighborhoods.
Although panelists did not address traffic issues, Gallo later added to her remarks about roadway congestion saying, “The current gridlock is the result of the last three to four decades of previous city council policies not adequately addressing road capacity and traffic.”
She noted she is now vice chairwoman of the council’s Mobility Committee and has been appointed to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board that deals with regional mobility issues. “My interest is in developing new road capacity as quickly as possible,” Gallo said.
Regarding safety and crime, Moreau said he did not know the crime rate in Foundation Communities neighborhoods. “We have 15 (Austin) communities and it varies. It is extremely low,” he said later adding, “We evict or non-renew folks that violate their lease, including someone charged or arrested for an offense that is against our criminal criteria.” HousingWorks representative, Ferguson, also commented that good management is the most important factor in keeping a community safe. Three of the panelists said they live near affordable housing developments.
Regarding property values, developers sought to assure audience members that their communities are well maintained. Ebner said that in the long term affordable housing is better preserved because of inspections. “Every three years there is a file audit and a physical inspection. Overall, tax credit properties are more inspected than market-rate communities,” she said.
She noted that penalties further motivate developers to keep up properties. “The consequences for developers found in noncompliance or in violation may result in the loss of tax credits to the investor and financial penalties to the developer. It can also result in debarment for the developer,” Ebner said.
At one point, Sisak cautioned the audience to not compare affordable housing with subsidized housing. She said, “Subsidized housing is the old model. For affordable housing, applicants have to meet eligibility requirements. Rent is pegged at a lower than market rate, but they do not receive a subsidy… unless they have Section 8 (eligibility).”
Moreau said that less than 10 percent of Foundation Communities renters fall under Section 8. He said that Foundation Communities has not capped the number of subsidized renters it accepts. “We’ve never needed to set a limit. Typically we don’t end up having more than 10 percent at one property,” he commented.
Foundation Communities apartments are reserved for families that earn in the range of approximately $20-50,000. The precise income cap varies by apartment size and the number of household members. “We have some apartments of each size that are reserved for families that earn 30 percent, 50 percent, and 60 percent of the area median household income. We must verify income from employment or other sources,” Moreau added.
After the meeting, River Place resident, Jay Wiley, indicated he remained against Cardinal Point construction. He said, “Foundation Communities does a great job and it has a great mission, but it’s not a good fit for Four Points. I wish we would put all this energy into solving our infrastructure issues.”
Kent Douglas, also a River Place resident, said, “I don’t mind paying for infrastructure – if you say we need it – but to start spending for affordable housing, that I don’t like.”
“ I believe government at all levels spends too much,” he added.
Kelley Clark, also a River Place resident, was introduced by Gallo to the audience at the beginning of the meeting. Clark said the Town Hall was her idea.
She recalled she was initially concerned with the proposed Cardinal Point construction, so she met with Gallo as well as Moreau. Clark also toured one of Foundation Communities’ developments and then suggested the Town Hall to make more information available to the public.
At the conclusion, Moreau invited the audience to an open house and luncheon from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., April 21 at Foundation Communities’ M Station community, 2906 E. MLK Jr. Blvd. Please R.S.V.P. to Julia Aguilar at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (512) 610-7975.