AISD, city, county collaborate to identify land for affordable housing

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Not surprisingly, affordability pushes people to Hays and Williamson counties, where a home can cost $100,000 less than it would in Austin. That fact hasn’t escaped Austin Independent School District. AISD’s Board of Trustees, Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners Court are coming together to identify public land that can be used for affordable housing. The City Council voted to approve its portion of the agreement and enter into more serious talks with AISD and the county on Thursday.

AISD records reveal hundreds of teachers live outside the city limits. As of last year, about 185 live in Pflugerville and least 107 live in Kyle. We met with a South Austin teacher who sees the change happening all around her.

“It’s happening a lot,” Galindo Elementary School teacher and Austin president of the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) Heidi Langan said. She’s seen teachers first move to areas like Buda and even San Marcos and commute to work, then over time, transfer to the closer school districts altogether.

“That happens to be a major decision-maker in why people are leaving this district,” AISD Board of Trustees Vice President Paul Saldana said, talking about the search for affordable housing. Saldana said the district loses about 1,000 students and 900 teachers a year. Last year, AISD also lost 40 of its 130 principals.

“I feel like the district spends a lot of money every year just trying to retrain a new batch of teachers coming in,” Langan said.

A contributing factor to the growing turnover is low salaries. Compared to the state’s top 10 urban school districts, when it comes to average teacher salaries Saldana told KXAN AISD is 10th on the list.

“We’re dead last,” he said. “If they have other surrounding school districts that offer them more competitive salaries and then, you know, the cost of living is cheaper, it’s a no-brainer. They’re going to move there.”

It’s why AISD intends to work with city and county officials to identify under-utilized public land for affordable housing, which could provide an opportunity for the district to provide housing incentives for employees.

“We want them to stay here. And we value them and we hear their concerns about affordability and we need to do our best to make sure that they can stay here in Austin,” Saldana said.

Langan says the district and student success depends on it. “Stability is just so important. And we don’t have that,” she said.

The city manager is now directed to return to the Housing and Community Development Committee and city council by Jan. 1 with at least three potential projects that could be developed on underutilized city tracts. Some criteria for the property location include:

  • Medium to high-opportunity district as per the Kirwan Opportunity Mapping
  • Existing or planned high-capacity transit line or other public transportation
  • An attendance zone of an elementary school with high ratings from the TEA
  • Imagine Austin Regional, Town, or Neighborhood Center
  • A hub for commercial services or other jobs
  • A half mile of an accessible transit stop

AISD’s Board of Trustees and Travis County commissioners are both scheduled to vote on the affordable housing collaboration before the end of the month.

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