AUSTIN, Texas - A battle is brewing over an affordable housing complex proposed for the West Campus area. Caritas of Austin is working to secure funding and develop an affordable apartment complex on West 24th Street and San Gabriel.
Obviously this project has a long way to go - but already there are concerns over who could live at the affordable housing complex and how it will be secured. West campus is known as one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Austin.
“The main thing is that there simply is not enough apartments to house all the students. There's virtually no vacancies, which is unheard of in a normal market situation,” said Rylan Maksoud, director of UT Student Government Housing Policy.
UT safety advocacy group SafeHorns said the focus of affordable housing projects should be student housing.
“We have students that are living in their cars, couch surfing, that experience food insecurity and have their own issues and challenges in terms of how do you navigate paying for your housing and then, at the same time, pay for your school,” said Joell McNew, president of SafeHorns.
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When McNew found out about the proposed affordable housing project, she had questions.
“It's very concerning. There's so many people that make up West Campus. You have the student population, you have the people that work here and then you have other citizens that have lived here a long time that are not students, and, I think, the very disappointing part is that all the public that we've talked to were not aware of it,” McNew said.
Caritas of Austin, the organization partnering with a developer to build the affordable apartment complex, said in a statement:
“Austin has a severe lack of deeply affordable housing with only 21 affordable rental units available for every 100 extremely low-income renters. Caritas of Austin has partnered with a developer and is working to secure funding, to develop an apartment community of 87 deeply affordable units at 911-915 W. 24th Street. The development will be designed to seamlessly integrate into the surrounding neighborhood fabric with high-quality construction and aesthetically pleasing architecture.
Seventy-five percent of the apartments will be leased to individuals with varying needs of affordability and social support. The remaining 25% of the apartments will be dedicated to people who have experienced long-term homelessness. All of the apartments will be priced for individuals whose income is $33,150 or less (50% of the median family income).”
“If we're going to put in units into West Campus, which was created as a student neighborhood, we believe number one it should be students,” said McNew.
“If we build this housing complex for the poor, that doesn't mean that we can't build numerous other housing complexes for students,” Maksoud said.
Caritas said the location meets all their requirements. It's close to public transit, is very walkable, and is in a dense neighborhood that is becoming unaffordable. However, there are also things they couldn't answer yet, like who will be moving in.
“This is APD territory. We're already short 180 officers. They didn't answer the question, in terms of security, how they would protect that area,” said McNew.
“Just because someone is struggling to get by does not mean they cannot be our neighbors,” Maksoud said.
Caritas said they will work with the West Campus community to place some restrictions on who could live there, for example preventing sex offenders from moving in. However, they said drug addicts or mentally ill people cannot be excluded because those are considered disabilities.