Travis County seeks new tool to spur affordable housing


Highlights

Draft policy will be circulated among developers and affordable housing advocates in coming weeks.

Developers would either build affordable units or be required to pay fees to build them elsewhere.

Travis County is considering creating a new tool to encourage developers to build more affordable housing.

Under a proposed policy, the county would require landowners and developers who create public improvement districts — special districts that fund projects such as road construction or wastewater lines — to either build a certain amount of on-site public housing or pay a fee that would go toward funding affordable housing projects elsewhere.

Diana Ramirez, director of economic development and strategic investments, outlined how the policy would work at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting. County staffers say it would be the first of its kind enacted by a local government, according to their research.

Public improvement districts are new additions to the county’s policy book as of the start of last year. Once a district is created, the county can then authorize revenue bonds that are paid back first by the developer but then gradually, as properties are developed, by the property owners through fixed-amount assessments.

If the district were created in an area that the county determined to be “high opportunity,” then it would require the developer to build a certain amount of affordable housing.

If the project were within a “low opportunity” area — for example, an area where sufficient affordable housing already exists— then the developer would be required to pay a fee based on the size of the bonds issued.

The county’s staff is still considering how to calculate the fees and how it would handle requests for exceptions to them. The fee money would be used for affordable housing projects elsewhere.

The county plans to ask for feedback from affordable and fair housing advocates, public improvement district developers and city of Austin staff, Ramirez said. She plans to take it back to Commissioners Court for a vote sometime in early summer.

Pete Dwyer, developer of the Wildhorse Ranch improvement district, was at Tuesday’s meeting and cautioned the court against setting fees too high.

“We’re bending as far forward as we can in assessing these fees, and it’s a stacking of the layer cake,” Dwyer said.

Commissioners Jeff Travillion and Brigid Shea were optimistic about the prospects of another incentive for affordable housing development.

“My main goal on the PIDs, since we’re slapping a very significant future assessment on people, in some cases $1,000 per year, is that our community gets more affordable housing out of it,” Shea said. “That’s, to me, one of the greatest benefits of the PIDs.”

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt warned against adding so many requirements that they deter potential developers or land owners from creating the districts.

“I’m not interested in creating the perfect policy that requires all the perfect stuff that nobody ever uses,” Eckhardt said in an interview. “Because then you only get the sound bite of being able to brag as a politician that you were a ‘true believer’ on this issue, that issue, that issue. But if nobody ever uses it, then the perfect became the enemy of the good.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

COMMUNITY NEWS: A&M extension holds food preservation workshop

TRAVIS COUNTY LAKEWAY Sing Along to present vaudeville theater Lakeway Sing Along will present its 18th annual spring show, “Vaudeville & Beyond,” at 6 p.m. April 26-28 at the Lakeway Activity Center, 105 Cross Creek. The shows will include dinner with music by the Lohman’s Crossing Band. Tickets are $30 and available at the activity...
Federal money to connect Texas schools to fiber at risk, officials say
Federal money to connect Texas schools to fiber at risk, officials say

Delays and denials by the federal government are putting Texas schools at risk of losing millions of dollars in potential subsidies that would help pay for installing high-speed fiber internet in classrooms, according to state officials. Last year, state lawmakers approved $25 million to help school districts over the 2018-19 budget period replace...
In gentrifying East Austin, are dogs replacing children?
In gentrifying East Austin, are dogs replacing children?

Olga Hernandez sat on the porch of her East Eighth Street house on a warm April afternoon, offering a few minutes to the latest reporter to come through asking about gentrification in her quickly changing neighborhood. Between pointing out rental units, she called hello to a young man and woman walking dogs down the sidewalk. Hernandez, 67, recently...
Opinion: Playboy comes to D.C.

Playboy Enterprises just announced that it has purchased a table at this year’s White House Correspondents Association dinner. Swell. Just what we need. The dinner, as you’ve probably heard, is an annual ritual of narcissism in which leading press figures don black tie and hope to see, or better yet, be seen with, Hollywood stars. Like...
California murder suspect arrested after SWAT standoff in Pflugerville
California murder suspect arrested after SWAT standoff in Pflugerville

A California man suspected of fatally stabbing his ex-girlfriend earlier this week was arrested in Pflugerville on Saturday after an hourslong standoff with SWAT officers. Kevin Darnell Dickson, 55, was taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Lone Star Fugitive Task Force and Austin police at about 1 p.m. Saturday. He had been barricaded inside a home...
More Stories