Iconic high rise getting make over

A ground breaking ceremony was held Tuesday morning for a new high rise construction project.

It was also a symbolic recommitment to a mission that started 50 years ago. The changes are coming to an east Austin senior living high rise, which once included a nursing home.

"A big part of RBJ's dream was delayed but today, new dreams won’t be denied,” said Luci Baines Johnson.

Johnson joined this celebration because the complex was named for her grandmother. The idea for the Rebekah Baines Johnson 250-unit tower was pitched by former President Johnson. 

"In a time when we hear so much about political divisiveness, RBJ has brought our community together,” said Luci Baines Johnson.

The complex is owned and operated by a non-profit  the Austin Geriatric Center.  Phase 1 is the building of a $35- million addition. It's set to be completed by 2020. The $25-million renovation of the existing 16 story tower will double capacity to just over 500 units.

The project represents a commitment to a demographic not usually associated with the city, according to mayor Steve Adler.

"Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the country on senior populations. In fact, Austin is the fastest growing city with respect to populations of 55 to 60,” said Mayor Adler.

Part of the 27-acre complex, prime property along Lady Bird Lake, was sold to developers to help pay for the project. The city is also providing $5-million in bond money. A fundraising campaign will be necessary to finance the rest of the bill.

The complex, originally, was considered ahead of its time. But time passed it by. This new vision is designed to catch up with what’s already being built, but to also stay true to the original mission."

"Living in this community, I would say, this is ground zero, for, on the affordability crisis, this is ground zero right here,” said State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D) Austin.

To address that concern - access to the expanded complex will be regulated. 100 units are tied to section 8 rental assistance. 366 units are for low income tenants. Only 38 will be priced at prevailing market rates. Income limits for the affordable units range from $18,000 to $36,000 for an individual. It tops out at around $41,000 for a couple.

"I'm 67 years old, I have a couple of friends I grew up with, childhood friends, or their parents, live here. And that’s what I want to see, I want to see that people do not have to leave their neighborhood, that they can retire here,” said Austin District 3 Councilman Sabino “Pio” Renteria.
The issue of displacement for the current residents of the complex- has apparently been addressed. Project managers say everyone living in the tower now will be moved into the new addition when it’s finished and work on the high rise begins.

When the complex is built out- site managers envision a massive multi use community; something like the residential and commercial complex built in north Austin at the Triangle. It’s not yet known exactly how much rental rates will be impacted by the project.