Austin Housing Authority details plan for Bridge at Steiner apartments 


Four Points News

The Austin Affordable Housing Corporation has recently purchased 51 acres in Steiner Ranch including the 302-unit Bell Steiner Apartments. A minimum of half of the units will be affordable housing under the Housing Authority of the City of Austin.

Last week, Four Points News shared that it appeared that two sites were part of the $99.5 million purchase, the site of the apartments and 25 acres adjacent to the apartments. But to clarify, the total purchase made by Austin Affordable Housing on August 23 totals 51.9 acres. The apartments sit on about half of the total site. 

“It was one transaction,” said Ron Kowal, vice president of asset management/housing development at Austin Affordable Housing.

Kowal also shared that there are no plans to build more apartments at 4800 Steiner Ranch Blvd.

“There will be no additional building on the site. All greenbelt,” Kowal said. “We are not doing anything to the property other than the affordability component.”

Local residents questioned how this purchase could take place when the site is not located within the Austin city limits but rather the extra-territorial jurisdiction or ETJ. Four Points News has learned that the city of Austin is not involved.  

“We’re not a city entity. We have nothing to do with the city, other than our name has the city of Austin,” Kowal shared. 

“For clarity on the purchase, our subsidiary of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin – Austin Affordable Housing Corporation – is the actual purchaser. The Housing Authority does not own the development,” Kowal said. “All our real estate is held in a subsidiary that is controlled by the board of commissioners of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin. They ensure that we are meeting our affordable goals.”

Kowal explained that the Housing Authority is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD to administer such things as the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Established in 1937, the Housing Authority is a public unit of government separate from the city of Austin. Its Austin Affordable Housing subsidiary was created in 2003.

“There’s been a need for a workforce housing component… and this was for sale,” Kowal said. “It was an open market bid process. We competed against market rate, for-profits.”

“The units are available to people working at the restaurants, grocery stores, drug stores, and firefighters,” he added. The goal is to bring affordable housing closer to those types of jobs in the Four Points area. 

Bridge at Steiner

The new name of the complex, which was built in 2016, is the Bridge at Steiner Ranch. Tenants were notified with a letter about the new ownership. 

A minimum of 51% will be affordable housing while the remaining units will be market rate.

“It’s the minimum requirement we have to provide under state government code. The amount of affordable units will never drop below that. It could increase based on how we manage the market rents side but each property is different,” Kowal said. 

The affordable units are being leased to residents below 80% Area Median Income with 10% of the units at 60% Area Median Income. These rent reductions average over $350 per month below current market rents, with the 3-bedroom units seeing a reduction of $565 per month, according to information presented to the HACA board in August.

Market rate rents currently range from $1,640 for a 1 bedroom to $2,858 for a 3 bedroom.

“Prices for the units for market rate renters will fluctuate with what the market rate trends are… probably not as aggressively as a for-profit,” Kowal said. 

“That’s how we’re able to support the lower rents. Market rent is critical to providing the lower affordability component,” Kowal said. “We need to have market rent units in there in order to help cover the costs of the affordable units.”

The affordability program started as soon as the purchase was completed, he added.   

“No one is pushed out (of their apartment). As the units turn (then they go into the program), we don’t displace anyone,” Kowal said. 

The apartments will be equally proportionate meaning if there are 100 two-bedroom apartments, then 50 will be in the affordability program. The apartment units in the program will be randomly distributed throughout the site.

Additionally Kowal shared that upgrades and care on the property will be the same for market rate renters and for those in the affordability program.

The Housing Authority tries to enhance the social impact of apartment life. It has already hosted a National Night Out on the first Tuesday of October with a meal and treats.

“We try to bring benefits to the property like food trucks, health and wellness (offerings), and financial planning that benefit all of the property,” Kowal said.

Austin Affordable Housing in the area  

Kowal shared that the $99.5 million Bell purchase was an acquisition purchase. The complex was for sale and that is why Austin Affordable Housing purchased the site. They typically do not look to purchase properties that are not for sale. 

There are multiple Austin Affordable Housing properties in the area.

“These purchases are not tied to any public funding. Our partners bring in the capital to purchase,” Kowal shared.

The Steiner property is the fourth Austin Affordable Housing’s asset partnering with New York-based L & M Development Partners and currently owns several developments in the area including the recently acquired Bridge at Canyon Creek and Bridge at Volente.

Austin Affordable Housing partnered with Community Development Trust, another social investor, for the Bridge at Ribelin Ranch in December 2021. 

The Bridge at Ribelin Ranch, built in 2008, is the exact same program as the Bridge at Steiner Ranch, Kowal said. Through this purchase, 175 newly restricted affordable units are being created at the 350-unit complex, which is located next to Four Points Middle School.

As of this week, Kowal shared that the Bridge at Canyon Creek is fully affordable with 52% of the units affordable, and the Bridge at Ribelin Ranch is at 36% affordability.

“(In less than a year of ownership,) the Ribelin Ranch complex has had fantastic response, lots of people getting into those affordable units,” Kowal said.