Explaining Austin's 'Housing Trust Fund'

Pending final approval, Austin is getting an even taller skyline.  

According to a report from our news partners, Community Impact, "The Republic" on West 4th Street and a 67-floor project called 6 by Guadalupe will both be taller than The Independent that's being built now. The 6 by Guadalupe developer is looking for some more square footage through the city's "Density Bonus Program."  Instead of building affordable units onsite, they're proposing putting $2.7 million into the city's "Housing Trust Fund."

Well what's that?

"The department receives funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and there are obviously specific regulations that goes along with those grant funds so the Housing Trust Fund was intended to be a fund that could help create affordable housing opportunities above and beyond what is provided by HUD," said Erica Leak with the City's Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department.  

Leak says through the city's "Density Bonus Program," a developer will agree to provide community benefits in exchange for building bigger.

"The way this works under state law is if you're going to build something more than the council had zoned, than the city had zoned, then you have to contribute to an additional city benefit and what the City Council has decided over many years is there's a little bit of that that's parkland and there's a little bit of that that goes into the Housing Trust Fund," said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan.  

Leak says with the Downtown Density Bonus Program, the funds are used to help people exit homelessness by creating permanent supportive housing.

She says the trust fund is a great source of funding.

"Because it allows us sometimes to create affordable housing at a lower income level.  We're trying to target those funds to households earning less than 60% of the median family income," Leak said.  

"There are programs for seniors to repair their homes.  There's a lot of programs that are all centered around providing and maintain affordable housing options in the City of Austin," Flannigan said.

Flannigan says council recently passed an item directing the City Manager to revisit the fee structure for the Density Bonus Program to make sure developers are providing enough benefits to match the market so affordable units can actually be built..

"And there's a lot of good reasons you would do a fee-in-lieu project where it doesn't make sense to force a big building to carve out certain areas for affordable housing when in fact you took those fees from 2 or 3 buildings you could actually get something substantial and even more affordable than just pock-marking different affordable units across the city," Flannigan said.

Flannigan points out they don't want to separate neighborhoods by income level.

He says mixed-income communities make the neighborhoods stronger.

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