'Pathways at Chalmers' project to bring more than 400 'deeply' affordable units to East Austin

Austin City Council Member Sabino "Pio" Renteria couldn't be more proud of what's about to happen with Chalmers Courts – an East Austin complex many of his friends grew up living in.
"I've been here 68 years in Austin and to see a project like this finally it fulfilled my dreams and my goal working as a housing advocate for years and years to see this accomplished, it's the greatest thing that ever happened to us," Renteria said. 
Congressman Lloyd Doggett was at Friday morning's groundbreaking ceremony for the new Pathways at Chalmers South.  Phase 1 of a project that will eventually replace the old Chalmers apartments that have served Austin for 8 decades.
"This particular project was the first one in the nation in 1939 when President Johnson, then the Congressman for this area, help put it here.  I'm pleased we're going to be putting the next chapter in now," Doggett said.   
Mike Gerber is President of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin.  He says it's the oldest public housing authority in the country.  HACA serves seniors, people with disabilities, families with kids and transitioning homeless.
Phase 1 of the 5-year-project starts at a property across the street where the Housing Authority administrative offices used to be.  Then demolition and new construction will move to the old Chalmers buildings.
"We've taken down these buildings and we're going to put up 86 units here.  And in about a year's time when these buildings are completed we'll move the residents from East Chalmers  over here to South Chalmers.  We'll take down those buildings and then we'll build about 156 units in East Chalmers," Gerber said.
Gerber says the total cost is about $80 million.  When it's all done Chalmers will go from 158 units to more than 400.  State of the art -- with amenities like Boys and Girls Club, job training programs and a partnership with Dell Medical School.
Right now the old Chalmers buildings are lacking basic amenities like central air.
"They didn't have air conditioning back then.  They didn't have hookups for washer and dryers.  When people washed their clothes they had to hang it out in the backyard so those are the kind of things that I wanted to correct," Renteria said.  
And we're talking deep affordability on the new and improved Chalmers.
"We're generally talking about folks who are, if they are working, earning about $12,000 a year or less.  We're serving folks at 30% of the area-median income and below," Gerber said.    
Mayor Adler says it's projects like this that help bring Austin closer to solving its affordability crisis. 
"400 units doesn't get us to 59,000 but 400 here and 400 there and 400 over there is the way that we start really eating into those numbers," said Mayor Steve Adler.