Commissioners back affordable housing in Del Valle despite concerns
Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of the affordable apartment complex in Del Valle, with County Judge Sarah Eckhardt dissenting
By Taylor Goldenstein – American-Statesman Staff
Travis County commissioners gave their support Tuesday to a proposed affordable apartment complex in Del Valle, going against the advice of staffers who said it may further segregate poor people in an area without enough resources.
Del Valle 969, a 302-unit development to be located at 14011 FM 969 near the airport, would serve families making less than 60 percent of the area median income, which is $46,680 for a family of four. The developer, NRP Group, which is partnering with the Strategic Housing Finance Corporation of Travis County, needed the Commissioners Court’s support to apply for federal housing tax credits to help finance the project.
Plans for the development include playgrounds, a swimming pool, business center, fitness room, children’s activity room and resident services, such as health and wellness programming, according to a letter from Daniel B. Markson, senior vice president of development at NRP Group.
The Austin’s Colony Homeowner’s Association, the Del Valle school district and Nelson Linder, president of the NAACP, support the development, according to the letter.
Commissioners voted 4-1 for a resolution supporting the development, with County Judge Sarah Eckhardt dissenting.
County staff had recommended against the project, noting the area already has a high concentration of black and Latino residents, 28 and 53 percent respectively, and 54 percent of residents are low-income.
New low-income housing in that area could potentially exacerbate a problem the county is trying to avoid: pockets of high poverty, which would conflict with its fair housing policy, staff wrote in a May 25 memo.
Staff also described the location as being in a low-opportunity area without good access to transit or grocery stores, and with schools that, while meeting state standards, were found to be low-performing by nonprofit research organization Children at Risk.
That could change over time, staff noted, if investments are made to improve access to jobs and transit, support schools and youth development activities and improve infrastructure. They recommended revisiting the area for such projects over the next five to 10 years, if population growth and other developments diversify the area.
“I agree with staff’s opinion that this is an excellent piece of property, this is an excellent developer, and if it were to landbank until there were additional elements that really made this sing, I would be 100 percent in favor of this,” Eckhardt said.
But developers told commissioners that the way to drive more resources to the area was by increasing rooftops. Most commissioners agreed.
Commissioner Jeff Travillion, whose precinct includes the proposed development site, said a lack of resources in an area shouldn’t be the barrier to receiving more resources like housing.
“We do not have enough affordable housing in that area … I don’t know how we argue that investments shouldn’t be made in an area that is under-invested in and has been historically,” Travillion said.
Commissioner Margaret Gómez also stressed the need for affordable housing for people in lower-paying professions whose talents are highly valuable, such as teachers, law enforcement officers and firefighters.
“I don’t know that putting additional housing in that area is going to lead to more segregation,” Gómez said. “I appreciate the fair housing (policy) and the goals of it, but when you’re not investing in an area like that, then you’re really causing the shortage of affordable housing even more.”
In other news Tuesday, the Travis Commissioners Court:
• Heard an update on DNA retesting. In light of the problems that led to last year’s closure of the Austin Police Department’s forensic lab, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office is sending notifications asking people if they would like their cases reviewed. So far, 492 have requested the review and seven have declined. The office has pre-screened 145 cases, and of those, about 15 percent were flagged as a “high” risk for a wrongful conviction. Commissioner Jeff Travillion urged the district attorney’s office to move faster on creating a stakeholder committee to oversee the review process.
• Asked for three “Goldilocks” bond package options. The Citizens Bond Advisory Committee will put together three possibilities to fund road and parks projects: One up to $80 million, another at $130 million and a third at $195 million. Commissioners will then decide which package to put before voters. Other high priority projects would be funded by certificates of obligation, which do not require voter approval. Commissioners charted a course for more frequent, lower-price tag bond elections after voters in 2015 defeated a $287 million bond for a new civil courthouse.