There’s been a lot of debate on the urbanist internets about a proposed development on Town Lake Circle, just off E. Riverside. The developer is proposing 1,000 multifamily units. They are requesting a density bonus to allow additional height. In return they’ll offer a certain number of income-restricted units, probably around 10% of the total (or about 100).
The problem is, the development will come at the expense of the existing Mesh apartments, a 300-unit complex on the property. It was built in the 1970’s and rehabbed in the last decade or so. Greg Casar has said that he doesn’t want to support that upzoning, for fear of displacing current low-income households at Mesh. Some other density proponents have sided with him, saying the city’s focus should be on adding new housing stock in West Austin, rather than facilitating the replacement of existing apartments with units that will undoubtedly be pricier.
Others respond that this is the city’s opportunity to get the best deal possible out of an inevitable redevelopment. A developer could tear down the building and replace it with more expensive units tomorrow and City Council would have no say. In this scenario, however, the developer is seeking MANY MORE units (good for reducing sprawl & enhancing transit) and offering to make a certain percentage of them affordable.
What’s a little puzzling is that neither side appears to be presenting evidence about who the current tenants are. Are they truly low-income? Are they long-time residents? Are they likely to struggle finding new housing at a similar price in the area?
When I looked at the prices at the Mesh website the other day, the lowest price I saw for a 1BR unit was $1,015/month, but today I looked again and see there is one 1BR floor plan available “starting at $990.” Many of the other floor plans are far more expensive. I see 1BR units available for $1.1k, $1.2k, $1.32k and $1.48k.
For whom are those rents affordable? According to HUD, the cheapest 1BR unit at the Mesh would be just a tad more expensive than what HUD considers “affordable” to a household at 60% of the area median income, although there is plenty of debate about these figures, especially considering that the calculation for a 1BR unit is based on 1.5 persons. I don’t know any 1.5 person households.
See the two charts below.
Meanwhile, the $1.1k rent would be a little above the 65% AMI level. The $1.2k rent would probably be around 70% AMI, the $1.3k rent would be a little above 80% AMI and the $1.48k rent would likely be right around 100% AMI.
As for 2BR units, I was shocked to see one available at Mesh for as low as $1,025, which would be affordable for a 3-person household at around 55% AMI. The next cheapest available is $1.35k, while the others are $1.41k, $1.52k, $1.61k and $1.8k.
It’s not clear what percentage of the units are priced at what level, but it seems clear that the great majority of the units are not affordable to those at or below 60% AMI, which is the maximum income level that the roughly 100 income-restricted units at the new project would be required to serve.
Those at or below 60% AMI have a very hard time finding affordable housing in this city. For instance, here are all the 1BR units (not including studios) available on Zillow for less than $967/month.
And here are all of the 2BR apartments for less than $1,161/month:
Things get a lot better when you move up to 65% AMI. Here are the number of 1BR units available for up to $1,043:
And here’s a look at the 2BR units available at 65% MFI:
Many of the Mesh rents are affordable to those at 80% AMI or above. Here are the number of 1BR units available at up to $1,290 a month:
I think if we’re really concerned about displacement, we should consider what percentage of the Mesh residents are in fact low-income households vulnerable to displacement.
Correction: In an earlier version of this article I listed the number of units available at $907/month as affordable at 60% AMI. In fact, it is $967/month. I corrected the wording and the map.
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