You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

Cortez: We made mistakes, but Pilot Knob deal is still good for Austin


For those of us who have taken big, expensive steps in life, such as having a child or taking out a loan to buy a home or go to college, the dizzying shock of uncertainty as you ask yourself what you got yourself into is all too familiar. Many are now experiencing similar doubts upon learning of the $50-plus-million affordable housing deal at the Pilot Knob development. Worse yet, many people in our community, not to mention on the city council, are now saying they weren’t fully aware of the details of what was probably the biggest SMART Housing deal ever done in Austin. To those people, I have a simple message: I get it.

I led the negotiations for the Mayor’s Office on Pilot Knob, and I’ll admit we did a poor job in taking the time to explain this deal to the rest of the city council and the public. I wish we had, because as you’ll see below this investment will deliver a great return to taxpayers on one of our top priorities. The simple fact is the developer, Brookfield Residential, will pay $50 million that the city will use to create more affordable housing where we need it and at a time that it is desperately needed.

Still — and I want this to be crystal clear — everyone should know that the city council can now or at any time in the future undo the deal if it wants. Additionally, the developer has assured us that if we don’t want to purchase these lots at discount prices because we’d rather use the money for the water utility, Brookfield would be only too happy to sell them to other people at market rates.

What has some people upset is the price tag. Make no mistake, it’s a big deal. There’s no way to make $50 million sound like a small amount, and no one should, but this deal more than “pencils out” for the people of Austin:

First, we got a lot of affordable housing at below-market prices, including 650 permanently affordable homes for sale that will help more families become homeowners. Also, we will get 10 percent of all rental units (estimated to be as much as 350) that will be kept affordable for 40 years.

Second, Brookfield will put an additional amount of up to $6 million into affordable housing which may be used for additional affordable units at Pilot Knob, buying down prices so they can be sold or rented to families with lower incomes, down payment assistance, and other affordability programs. Normally, we wouldn’t get this.

Third, Brookfield is providing 10 acres (valued around $2.5 million) for a transit center, so we’re not just addressing affordability but mobility.

Fourth — and this is also unusual — Brookfield is paying for around $30 million in water and wastewater infrastructure. Had the developer not agreed to pay for this infrastructure, likely the water utility would have had to.

Had we not negotiated this affordable housing deal, the $50 million in developer fees would have gone primarily into the water utility’s account. Instead, this money is going where Austin needs it most. As the mayor has said — and most of us have felt personally — Austin has an affordability crisis. That $50 million will build affordable housing that will serve our community for generations to come — and that’s not even counting all the extras in this deal.

After totaling up the plusses and minuses, the question isn’t whether we should undo this deal but whether we should do a lot more of them. Great cities do big things, but it’s natural for a deal of this magnitude to give one pause. Next time, of course, we’ll do a better job of explaining the deal, and that feeling of uncertainty will be replaced with the calm confidence of knowing that we’re spending money wisely on your top priorities.

Cortz is chief of staff for Austin Mayor Steve Adler.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Commentary: Austin tree ordinance violates private property rights
Commentary: Austin tree ordinance violates private property rights

Trees are timber — a natural resource that belongs to private property owners in the same way as a backyard garden. It would be absurd to require a government permit to harvest your peppers and potatoes — yet many Texas cities strictly regulate trees on your land. Overregulation of landowners and their ability to trim and remove tress is...
Letters to the editor: March 27, 2017
Letters to the editor: March 27, 2017

Re: March 13 commentary, “Legalizing drug importation harms Texas’ patients, economy.” The viewpoint expressed by Thomas R. Kowalski citing imports harming local economy is exactly correct. In fact, the exact situation has already occurred — not in the drug manufacturing industry but in the American automobile manufacturing...
We’re against emotionalism, except when we’re not

Conservatives have rightly taken pride in Neil Gorsuch’s calm and cerebral performance at his Senate confirmation hearings. Many commentators, along with Republican senators, have mocked Democrats for presuming to evaluate Gorsuch based on the outcomes of his cases. Did he “side with the little guy” or with big corporations? The right...
Commentary: Tree ordinances are best left to city governments
Commentary: Tree ordinances are best left to city governments

Once again, the Legislature is taking aim at cities — and tree protection ordinances sit squarely in their crosshairs. The value of trees and urban forests is unquestionable. There are very real economic, environmental and psychological benefits that trees provide for our communities and their residents. Studies have demonstrated that the presence...
GOP replacement for Obamacare would leave Americans, Texans stranded
GOP replacement for Obamacare would leave Americans, Texans stranded

The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, has flaws. That much is clear. Instead of fixing and improving it so Obamacare continues to be sustainable going forward, Republicans led by House Speaker Paul Ryan are proposing to replace it with a measure that would further break the nation’s health care system. Interestingly, the GOP plan has been attacked...
More Stories