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Austin Weighing Affordable Housing Options As Bond Money Runs Out
Around 39,000 units and growing: that's the need for affordable housing in Austin. But with $55 million in bond money nearly spent, making a small impact on the overall problem, and voters shooting down more money, the city says they have no choice but to look for other answers.
As Austin grows up, Josh Spain of Affordable Austin, a group Spain says is dedicated to "making Austin the most affordable city in the country," says affordability is heading the opposite way.
"It's getting increasingly difficult,” said Spain. "I don't believe bonds are the answer."
Spain spoke at the Bond Oversight Committee on Wednesday. City staff said all of the $55 million from the 2006 Affordable Housing bonds have been spent or committed to 35 projects, with the remaining 12 expected to wrap up in the next two years. These projects will create about 2,500 units, but city staff members say to close the gap and keep up with Austin's growth, they'll need about 1,500 units a year, each of those taking roughly $23,000 to subsidize. Subsidizing home improvements costs $7,000 to $15,000.
All the while, federal dollars get harder to come by.
"I don't think there is any point where council's going to stop vetting how they fund affordability," said Rebecca Giello, Assistant Director for the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office. "Nothing's off the table."
Giello says a long-term plan will likely include several options. One possibility is using money from the general fund.
"You really have to take a look at potentially more funding sources as well as applying the general fund to affordable housing," said Giello.
Public-private partnerships are another option, and Giello says they already have a proven track record for creating results.
"Mueller is a great example where the goal for affordable housing over there is 25 percent," she said.
It's a discussion Giello says Council has already started.
Giello also said the $55 million in bonds helped attract more than $100 million in private investments and helped create 2,000 jobs.
In Wednesday's presentation to the committee, city staff members also said bond-funded ADA improvements on sidewalks and ramps should be completed by the end of the year.
By Adam Bennett