Austin City Council gives blessing to six affordable housing projects


New members of the Austin City Council faced their first test Thursday on two of the most pressing problems they heard about on the campaign trail: clogged roads and rising housing costs.

The proposal for Cardinal Point apartments would bring up to 125 affordable housing units to the heart of a fast-growing section of Northwest Austin near RM 2222 and RM 620 known as Four Points. The development would have one-, two- and three-bedroom units that charge below-market rents from $576 a month to $736 a month.

But some neighbors protested the complex, saying it would add to the area’s traffic problems.

“We can’t stop economic growth but I am going to challenge the City Council to take into consideration the infrastructure,” said River Place Homeowners Association president Scott Crosby, noting a nearby traffic signal has a very long wait time.

Ultimately the council approved a $1.9 million forgivable loan for Cardinal Point, which would be built by the nonprofit Foundation Communities. Securing this loan and receiving the city’s blessing puts Cardinal Point in a better position to obtain affordable housing tax credits from the state, according to city officials.

Cardinal Point was one of six affordable housing projects that received the City Council’s blessing on Thursday — and the only one that had significant opposition. Securing City Council approval doesn’t necessarily mean all of these projects will be built, though: Only $3.7 million in tax credits are allocated to the part of the state that includes Austin, which is enough to support two or three projects.

A handful of residents also spoke in favor of Cardinal Point, arguing the traffic impact would be minimal and that more affordable housing was needed in Northwest Austin.

Nearby resident Cynthia Schwartz, who also owns several Which Wich sandwich shops in Austin, said she agrees that traffic at Four Points is “horrible.” She questioned why critics raised traffic concerns about Cardinal Point, noting there was no opposition when a much larger and more upscale development was built in Steiner Ranch, near Four Points.

Schwartz said her sandwich shops struggle to keep employees because of lack of affordable housing and long commutes. “I think (some neighbors) are opposing this project strictly because it is affordable housing,” she said.

Council Member Don Zimmerman, who represents Northwest Austin’s District 6, which includes the site, joined some of the neighbors in opposition to the project. He also made an attempt to get the other council members to go along with him by pitching a plan to defer to each council member on development decisions in his or her district — also known as “ward politics.”

But the other council members weren’t on board, and Cardinal Point was approved on a 9-1 vote, with Zimmerman voting no and Council Member Ellen Troxclair abstaining. Troxclair, who represents Southwest Austin’s District 8, explained that she wanted the city to take more of a “leadership role” in picking which affordable housing projects deserved these tax credits.



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