Support of Housing Strategy

To:       The Honorable Lee Leffingwell, Mayor, Austin City Council, and Board Members of the Austin Housing Finance Corporation

In the fall of 2011, the CHDO Roundtable released a white paper entitled “Meeting Austin’s Affordable Housing Needs Across the Spectrum.” During the last two years, Federal and State funding continued to see cuts, yet on the local level citizens of Austin first rejected and then approved new affordable housing bond funding. The bond funds, as critical and essential as they are, are nonetheless dwarfed by the continuing steep climb in housing costs, in both the rental and ownership markets, for Austinites.

Our 2011 paper proposed a three-pronged approach which is still relevant today:

    1. Identify the Goals: Design a portfolio of the housing types that should be developed for Austin over the next ten years, including long-term goals for specific low-income populations and shorter-term annual goals. Annually review the gap between housing production and the goals and as needed, adjust the scoring of applications to prioritize funding in areas where needs remain and development capacity and opportunities exist.
      In this regard:

      • We applaud the city for its initiative in commissioning a new housing market study with attention to sub-populations and recommend that the city use that data to set goals for those sub-populations across the housing spectrum.
      • There is a need to ensure that both the goals and the tracking are public and transparent.
      • We recommend tracking and showing not just the proposed income levels committed to be developed, but the actual income levels served once the developments are occupied.
  1. Make Plans that are Driven by the Goals: Align the Action Plan and Consolidated Plan with the plans and goals of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin and Travis County Housing Authority in order to meet the long-term portfolio goals, and integrate these into Imagine Austin.
    In this regard:
  • We applaud the initiative to align the City’s Action and Consolidated Plans with those of Travis County.
  1. Create the Means: Now that we have passed the housing bonds, we need to continue pursuing other strategies to meet Austin’s growing need for affordable housing. These include:
  • Prioritize the use of publicly-owned land for affordable housing because it offers an invaluable means of achieving our core value of geographic dispersion.
  • Seek General Revenue funding streams for Home Repair and PSH services, addressing these needs as programs rather than housing projects, while continuing to fund a portion of Home Repair out of the bonds.
  • Identify dedicated sources of revenue for affordable housing.
  • Promote land-banking and community land trusts.

Furthermore, we make the following recommendations:

  1. We support the following guidelines for allocation of the affordable housing bonds funds
    • 75% for rental housing; all targeted to people at 50% MFI and below, with the majority targeting people at or below 30% of MFI.
    • 25% for homeownership, including home repair.

Furthermore, we recommend that the city not set aside specific amounts or percentages (“buckets”) to specific housing types or populations but achieve goals through application scoring. As regards Permanent Supportive Housing, for example, we believe that driving investment toward serving people under 30% of MFI and partnerships between homeless advocates and housing developers will produce better results than keeping funds off-limits for projects serving other needy and deserving populations. Should Council choose to earmark funds for specific housing types, then the Roundtable strongly recommends that funds unallocated after 12 months be made available to other projects.

  1. We recognize the severity of the need for individuals who would benefit from a Permanent Supportive Housing-Housing First model and support funding projects that serve them. Such projects should follow the same process as other projects. However, we are concerned with a number of specifics regarding the implementation of the funding to support such projects and recommend the following:
    1. Clarify the definition of PSH and who will be served. Since 2010, the City’s focus has shifted to a narrowing of models of PSH and the populations to be served. This has resulted in confusion and difficulty in planning. A clear definition needs to be determined and made available for an extended period of time so that housing providers can plan effectively.
    2. As noted above, dedicate a predictable funding stream from general revenue to PSH services. This will facilitate the development of housing units.
    3. As with all types of housing, count actual units of PSH produced, as these are usually higher than what was originally planned.
  2. The CHDO Roundtable supports the modification of the Good Neighbor Policy. We believe: (1) it is in potential conflict with the implementation of geographic dispersion policies, (2) it is a possible violation of Fair Housing laws, (3) it puts affordable housing at a disadvantage, both financially and administratively, compared to the development of privately financed housing, and (4) in some cases it poses a danger to residents by letting the neighborhood know the address where vulnerable people are residing. The Roundtable proposes that projects receive points for demonstrating that they have made contact and communicated regarding their project with representatives of neighborhood plan contact teams or, when these are not available, the impacted neighborhood association(s) listed in the City’s Community Register .
  3. The CHDO Roundtable supports the inclusion of Accessible, Affordable, Integrated (AAI) housing for people with disabilities as a housing priority, in accordance with the recommendations proposed to the city by Accessible Housing Austin!, Easter Seals of Central Texas, and ADAPT. We applaud the staff of NHCD for adjusting the scoring to give points for serving people with disabilities outside the PSH model and to give points for exceeding minimum standards of accessibility.

As we stated in 2011, Austin must continue to recognize that there is a increasing need for affordable housing across a spectrum of low-income Austinites, from the working families to people with disabilities, from the elderly to the chronically homeless. The bond funds offer the opportunity for the city to reaffirm and deepen its commitment to the core values articulated in the 2006 bond package: deeper affordability, long-term affordability and geographic dispersion. As we move forward with creating much-needed affordable housing, it remains essential that the city pursue a thoughtful and strategic policy for investing the funds while keeping an eye on long-term goals and planning.


Sunshine Mathon, Chair                                    Fiona Mazurenko, Vice-Chair