By Jo Clifton
Friday July 29, 2022
Although the city’s housing staff expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for an Austin Housing and Finance Corporation contract to provide affordable multifamily housing on city-owned property at 3515 Manor Road, several neighbors urged City Council Thursday to reject the vendors chosen by staff. NHP Foundation, Capital A Housing and their partners propose to build 244 of 262 units for people at or below 60 percent of the median family income, with 60 units reserved for people exiting homelessness.
Council unanimously approved negotiations on the contract.
The project, to be called Seabrook Square, will offer affordable housing for low-income families as well as permanent supportive housing for the previously homeless, including on-site social services. The winning bidder is also promising space for artists and “an art-focused cafe.”
The city purchased the proposed housing site using 2018 general obligation bonds in 2021 and added that to about 2.5 acres AHFC acquired from the city’s Public Works Department this year.
In addition to the NHP Foundation and Capital A Housing, partners in the project include the Austin Area Urban League, Six Square, Raasin in the Sun, and Origin Studio House. Mandy De Mayo, deputy director of the Housing and Planning Department, explained that the latter three organizations are responsible for community engagement. The property will also provide office space for Raasin in the Sun and Origin Studio House. The partners are working with Integral Care, which offers social services.
Most AHFC meetings, which are called separately but meld into Thursday Council meetings, are usually quick and quiet affairs with no public speakers and little Council discussion. However, on Thursday several neighbors expressed concern about the impact the new project would have on their neighborhood. Some urged Council to reject NHP in favor of Foundation Communities, a well-known provider of homelessness services in Austin.
De Mayo noted that staff from the housing department and Austin Public Health, which worked together on the proposal, had selected NHP and that the collaboration was a first for the two departments.
Ruth Ahearn, practice administrator for housing and homeless issues at Integral Care, told Council it was important to move forward quickly with awarding the contract in order to ensure the project will receive several million dollars in state funding. She told Council Integral Care has practical experience moving people from homelessness to supportive housing, explaining that all of those admitted to permanent supportive housing at Seabrook Square would be referred by ECHO, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition.
As usual, some of those opposed to the project suggested it be postponed. Staff wrote in a memo to the mayor and Council that AHFC and Austin Public Health believed that a postponement would “have a potentially negative impact on the successful funding and subsequent development of future affordable housing and permanent supportive housing at the AHFC-owned property at 3515 Manor Road.”
“All proposals currently under consideration as part of the 3515 Manor request for proposal process contemplate being funded with APH social service contract funding and 4 percent low-income housing tax credits and private activity bonds,” the memo continued. “APH is funding the full term of the agreement from their (Fiscal Year 2022) operating budget, thus after Sept. 30, those funds will no longer be available to them. They are also under the time restraints of their department and corporate purchasing deadlines to have all FY 22 funded projects submitted by Sept. 20.”
Ben Heimsath, vice chair of the Historic Landmark Commission, explained that he was not speaking on behalf of the commission, but for himself and his neighbors. He complained that NHP planned to build “a five-story wall against our homes on Greenwood” and said the proposal would be primarily single rooms, not available to families. However, Conor Kenny with Capital A Housing told Council they had scaled back the height of the project from five to three stories. He said they were very proud of their proposal and noted that they had expanded the area for commercial development, which would create more space for nonprofits on the site.
Council members received a letter from the J.J. Seabrook Neighborhood Association, informing them that the group was strongly in favor of the Foundation Communities proposal. The Mueller Neighborhood Association, on the other hand, wrote in support of the NHP Foundation proposal. In its letter to Council the group speculated that Foundation Communities, which was offering a lower number of total units than NHP, was perhaps “being tasked with meeting too much of the affordable housing need” in the community.
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Originally posted on Austin Monitor