New affordable housing deal to be revisited by Austin Council

A deal to promote affordable housing in a new development just outside of Austin may trigger a water rate hike for everyone who lives in Austin. Several members of the city council claim they didn't know about the impact and, now there is a move to reconsider the deal. 

Only about a dozen homes have been built so far at the Easton Park-Pilot Knob subdivision. The plan is to build as many as 65-hundred homes and 15-hundred apartments.

Located just outside of the city limits, along McKinney Falls Pkwy and south of ABIA, 10% of the properties are to be listed for sale or rent at prices classified as affordable. But to make that happen current Austin residents, like Diana Saunders who moved into a southeast neighborhood back in the 70's, may have to pay more for water.

"I don't think that is right, I love to help people have affordable housing, but there is a limit,” said Saunders.

In December the Austin City Council approved a zoning change for the developers of Easton Park. The deal involved diverting about $50 million in water and city impact fees, paid by the developer, into a special fund to help low income families buy homes and pay rent.

But according to a memo sent to council members on Monday by City Manager Marc Ott, the financial hit to the Austin Water utility would be much higher. It’s now estimated at $81-million.

Utility officials reportedly were not part of the original negotiation and warn the fee diversion may have to be recovered by increasing monthly water bills by a little more than a dollar. 

Thursday, the Austin City Council will consider a resolution that could do a lot more than put the brakes on this affordable housing deal. It could put it into reverse. The idea behind this reboot is coming from Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair.

"I think it is really critical, when we are making decisions that are going to drastically impact every Austin water customer in the city that we be able to have all the information to make an informed decision,” said Troxclair.

The zoning deal was put together by staff for Mayor Steve Adler and council member Delia Garza, who represents a part of town near the new development.

On the council message board Mayor Adler apologized, by stating, "I take responsibility for not taking the opportunity to explain the deal in greater detail."

Adler also went on to say, "... We believe it is a fiscally sound deal that makes meaningful progress on one of our city's top priorities - affordability"

Troxclair is not sure if the deal will stand after the discussion Thursday, but she expects the debate about how to address the overall issue will continue.

"Affordability is such a key topic in our city, but when we talk about affordability we need to understand that making it affordable for a small group of people to live here, on the backs of basically everybody who is struggling to pay their ever increasing water utility bills is not the right way to do it,” said Troxclair.

The zoning deal also diverts almost $25 million in city development impact fees. That's makes the total package amount top out at $106 million.

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