East Austin's 'Lopez House' getting makeover and affordable rent

Perched at the top of a hill on East 9th Street like a symbol of East Austin's past, the Lopez House has been sitting vacant and decaying for years.

But now it's in the hands of the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation. They're giving it some much needed love.

"The inside was remarkably well-preserved. A lot of places, you know, they lower the ceilings and they paint over the trim and remove it and put in shag carpet or who knows what, vinyl flooring and it's glue and everything else.  But this has the wood floors that are well-preserved, the trim," said Executive Director Mark Rogers.

Rogers says the non-profit is dedicated to providing affordable housing for people in the neighborhood.  Something that's becoming scarce in the ever-changing East Austin.

"There were studies done in 2001, 2002 on gentrification. 'No, it's nothing to worry about yet.'  But certainly by the mid 2000's, 2005 or so, it was pretty obvious that prices were going up and people were being priced out," Rogers said.

According to the Austin Board of Realtors, the average price for a single family home in the city is more than $333,000.

Rentjungle.com says the average rent in Central East Austin is more than $1,400 a month. In downtown, more than $2,100 a month.

Rogers says the low to moderate income family that will be selected to live in the Lopez House will only be paying $500 to $700 a month.

"And whoever we move in here is going to have ties to this neighborhood.  What we call generational ties.  They'll be able to, [in] most cases a lot of our tenants, 'Well Grandma lived over there or still lives over there, sister and brother live 5 blocks away,'" Rogers said.

Rogers says the house was most likely built in the early 1900's. The Lopez family bought it in the '50s and kept it until 2010.

"They hung on to it despite offers from condo developers and shopping mall developers and apartment developers and...eventually got it designated as historic a little over a year ago," Rogers said.

Council Member Sabino 'Pio' Renteria says the Lopez House isn't quite in his district but he grew up in the Guadalupe neighborhood and remembers it well.

"Good people.  They were very kind to us and she treated all the children there like it was her children.  Everybody was very fond of Mrs. Lopez," Renteria said.

The Corporation says the deal they have on the house is for 99 years.  Renteria is glad future generations will be able to benefit from it.

"Their family is going to be able to live there.  And their family's family is going to be able to live there at a really affordable rate," Renteria said.

According to the Travis County Appraisal District, the house is valued at a little over $230,000. Which may sound a little low but the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation says they have a special exemption that reduces the property taxes, which they'll pay by the way.

They will also pay the utility bills for whoever ends up living there.

Rogers says they have about 700 people on the waiting list for housing. They expect to have a family move in by June.