Can we get cheap housing near City Hall?

Bluebonnet Studios, an affordable housing complex by Foundation Communities on S. Lamar

On Thursday City Council will vote to endorse 10 different affordable housing projects proposed by several different for-profit and non-profit developers. No, that doesn’t mean the projects are going forward. Council’s support is just one part of a very competitive application process to receive financing from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

The financing comes via the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which is administered by the state in two forms: the 9% competitive tax credits and the 4% non-competitive credits. In either case, the state gives you a tax credit that you can then sell to investors to finance the development.

The coveted 9% tax credits are hard to come by. The state is split up into 13 different regions, each of which is split into a rural and urban category. TDHCA only sets aside a certain amount of credits for each region.

This year, the Austin urban area is eligible for $4.4 million. However, the 11 projects vying for the credits (10 in Austin, one in Round Rock) are seeking over $20 million. That means that there will probably only be three or four projects that get the credits.

The projects that don’t get the 9% tax credits are not necessarily goners. They can get the 4% noncompetitive credits relatively easily, and then seek additional funding from the city, which you may recall has $250 million to play around with from the recently-approved affordable housing bond.

So how does the state decide which projects are worthy of its support? It’s a scoring matrix that takes into account a bunch of different criteria. Traditional factors that benefit a project include being in an area that doesn’t have a high poverty rate and being close to transit and jobs. Projects get additional points if they receive letters of support from the local government body and the state representative who represents the area targeted for development. This last point was the source of controversy in 2016, when Rep. Celia Israel declined to support a project in North Austin, citing the lack of transit access. That development, the Elysium Grand Apartments, is going forward anyway, much to the chagrin of the local neighborhood association.

In 2017, the state introduced a new criteria: projects that are located within four miles of City Hall will get additional points. The idea makes a lot of sense in Austin, where the urban core is increasingly inaccessible to the middle-class, let a lone the poor or working class. Here are the locations of the ten proposed projects:


According to Google maps, some of them are just a tad over 4 miles, but maybe with some creative math they could get credit. The only one that clearly won’t get qualify for those points is the project way up on North Lamar.

In what is a familiar trend, most of the projects are east of I-35. However, it’s important to note that that doesn’t mean quite the same thing as it used to. Most of the proposed projects are in areas that have already undergone significant gentrification or are beginning to experience it now. As much as I’d like to see some affordable units in Rosedale, preserving affordable housing in East Austin neighborhoods close to downtown is also a huge win.

One project that I’m guessing will score highly on a number of criteria is located at 1000 E. 45th St., just east of Airport Blvd but just west of I-35. It will include 60 income-restricted units, 46 of which will be two or three-bedroom and 35 of which will be for those at 50% of the area median income or lower. I don’t think that the project, which calls itself “City View at Hyde Park,” is actually in Hyde Park, but it is certainly a high-opportunity area with access to lots of key amenities, notably good schools.

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