Leaders in Austin’s affordable housing community met July 1 the City of Austin’s new Chief of Staff, Anthony Snipes to voice objections to housing budget cuts we reported on earlier that have been proposed by the City’s Neighborhood Housing Department.
Frank Fernandez (CPH); Cathy Echols (Livable City); Ruby Roa (CDC); Algie Williams (CDC); Michael Willard (Habitat); Johnny Limon (CDC); Ashton Cumberbatch (Seton); Rory O’Mally and Joyce McDonald (Frameworks); Kathy Stark (Tenants Council); Mark Rogers (GNDC); Francie Ferguson (HousingWorks); and Karen Paup (TxLIHIS) took part in the meeting. In addition to Anthony Snipes, Margaret Shaw and Diana Domeracki from Neighborhood Housing represented the city.
The Austin housers focused on the current issue of the housing trust fund and next year’s housing budget. Anthony Snipes comes to Austin from working as chief of staff in Ft. Worth and before as a department director in Akron, Ohio. He said he found Austin similar to Akron in that both are cities with strong citizen involvement. He emphasized that he viewed citizen involvement as a good thing because it means people care about their city. He was also interested in a master plan for housing, a report card on how the city is doing, and whether any outside consultants had evaluated where the city is at in housing.
With regard to the housing trust fund and the Neighborhood Housing Departent, he made two noteworthy comments.
- The city council had funded the trust fund for several years at $1 million, but now we have the bonds. The suggestion seemed to be that the bonds replaced the trust fund.
- Is there enough capacity to spend the housing dollars?
On these first two issues, the housers responded that…
- city council made a multi-year commitment to the three housing funds,
- city council continued funding the three budget items after the formal commitment expired,
- when the city had had a shortfall before, the trust fund was not severely cut and certainly not eliminated, and
- the voters approved more funds for housing so that there would be more funds for housing.
On the chief of staff’s second issue, Michael Willard pointed out that for Habitat for Humanity it takes consistent funding from year to year to carry out a large project because of the different phases involved. Habitat seeks funds to purchase raw land, create a subdivision out of the land, and finally to build houses over several years and several funding cycles.
Another point was that there is no shortage of need or developers in Austin, so there shouldn’t be a shortage of good projects to undertake. Stoneridge with its $23,333 per door cost to create apartments affordable at 50% MFI for 40 years was one example of the new type of opportunities available to us.
The Austin City Council will vote on the housing budget on July 24.