Zimmerman files bill for more input on subsidized housing

By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News

Place 6 City Council member Don Zimmerman says that while he opposes subsidized housing projects such as the proposed Cardinal Point apartment complex on Four Points Drive, the state’s current scoring system does not take his views into consideration. Zimmerman worked with State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) to file legislation that would change that.

Don Zimmerman Place 6 City Council member

Don Zimmerman
Place 6 City Council member

“I investigated the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affair’s scoring process, I personally met with TDHCA staff, and arrived at the conclusion that the scoring process is rigged in favor of approving these tax credits” Zimmerman said.

Under current state law, only members of the Texas House of Representatives have the ability to impact—either positively or negatively—the scoring process for such projects.austin_city_seal

Senate Bill 1719, if enacted into state law, would allow individual city council members, county commissioners and members of the board of directors of Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs), within whose territory a proposed subsidized housing development has been proposed for construction, to impact—either favorably or unfavorably—the mathematical scoring process used by TDHCA in that agency’s decision to award, or not award, a tax credit to the developers of such construction projects.

Zimmerman said there are three subsidized housing projects proposed within district 6 – Cardinal Point, Monarch at Lakeline Station and Azul 620. While the Monarch and Azul 620 projects each received letters of opposition from State Rep. Tony Dale and State Rep. Paul Workman, respectively, the Cardinal Point project received a letter of support from State Rep. Donna Howard.

In her letter to TDHCA, Howard said she supports Foundation Communities’ long history of developing quality housing and educational services in 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 said. “I commend the efforts of Foundation Communities to pursue the development of this site, and I hope for the approval of their TDHCA application.”

Zimmerman said he has heard opposition to the Cardinal Point project among River Place residents but feels there is not much he can do to stop it.

“It looks like it might move forward,” he said. “The people in River Place are really upset about it, but I haven’t figured out a way to meet their demands to get it stopped. I don’t see a way to do it yet.”

Zimmerman said he is opposed to affordable housing projects such as Cardinal Point because they rely on millions of dollars in government subsidies in the form of tax credits. He said while the tax credits that TDHCA offers are federal, subsidized housing project developers seek millions in additional municipal subsidies to improve their chances of getting the lucrative federal tax credits. Such projects typically remove the housing from tax rolls, shifting a greater tax burden onto non-subsidized housing.

“The decision to build a subsidized housing project within a local community can have a major impact upon that community’s infrastructure. And with such a high-dollar commitment of local resources, it is important that the local city council member, or the local county commissioner, or the local MUD board members—all of whom are closest to the constituents who reside near the proposed construction site—have more of a direct say in the future of their overall communities,” Zimmerman said.

In February, the Austin City Council approved a $1.875 million municipal loan for the Cardinal Point project, conditional on the award of tax credits to Foundation Communities. Zimmerman said it is deceptive for the city to call the money a loan, however, because it has zero interest and is often forgivable.

“That’s called a grant,” Zimmerman said. “That’s giving people’s money away. This stuff makes me angry. They’re giving people’s money away and calling it a loan. That’s how you deceive people.”

He was the only council member to vote against the measure.

SB 1719 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, of which Campbell is a member. Zimmerman said he’s asked State Sen. Paul Bettencourt to co-author the bill. Bettencourt serves as vice-chairman of the committee.

“I’m asking him for a hearing on the bill, but I don’t know when that would happen,” Zimmerman said. “I would like to get a commitment for a hearing.”

While he said he is very serious about the bill, Zimmerman said he knows passage this session may be difficult.

“It’s a very complex process to get a bill all the way through,” he said. “I look at it as a play-off team trying to get to the big game. We worked for several weeks just to get a bill filed. We got the bill filed on the last day of bill filing. We could’ve been kicked out of the tournament right there. Now we’ve got it assigned to a committee. We’re completely serious about the bill. We think we have a very rational argument.”