Austin to help pay rent, mortgages for more people

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the city of Austin continues to grapple with how to address homelessness, it’s also working to boost subsidies for affordable housing to keep people from falling into homelessness.

The city of Austin expects that maintaining a supply of affordable rental units will be a challenge as the anticipated population growth continues in the city.

An income-restricted affordable housing unit in East Austin(KXAN/Alyssa Goard)

Austin’s recent Strategic Housing Blueprint outlines goals for the city to add 60,000 affordable units to the city’s housing stock.

The City’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department (NHCD) explained to KXAN that they are increasing the amount they subsidize housing for the most low-income Austin residents. In the recently approved city budget, NHCD said they received several million dollars of one-time funds and that $5 million of those dollars have been carved out of the Housing Trust Fund to subsidize housing for the most vulnerable people in Austin.

That “deeply subsidized housing,” for people earning 30% or less of the median family income, is the type of housing Austin will need more of to really make a difference in addressing homelessness, explained Rebecca Giello, Deputy Director of NHCD.

What is median family income and who qualifies for affordable housing?

According to the city’s 2019 numbers, Median Family Income (MFI) in the Austin area is $67,150 for a one-person household, $76,700 for a two-person household, $86,3000 for a three-person household, $95,900 for a 4 person household, $103,550 for a 5 person household.

NHCD said that typically they are able to help fund mortgages for homeownership for people who make 80% or more of the city’s MFI (that means $52,850 for a one-person household, $60,400 for a two-person household, $67,950 for a three-person household, and $75,500 for a four-person household).

Giello added that NHCD can help fund rent for those making around 50% MFI or less (that means $33,150 for a one-person household, $37,850 for a two-person household, $42,600 for a three-person household, and $47,300 for a four-person household).

Boosting the amount of affordable housing

The numbers in a release from the city Wednesday reveal that between 2009 and 2018, an average of 846 income-restricted affordable housing units were added to the city each year.

Between 2009 and 2013, the city added 2,980 affordable housing units, and in the following four years, the city got close to double that amount: between 2014 and 2018 the city added 5,485 affordable housing units.

The city adds that there are 11,238 income-restricted housing units in the “pipeline” which will be added to Austin’s housing stock in the coming years.

“While we’re working hard to support people experiencing homelessness today with the urgent help they need to get off the streets, the best way to prevent homelessness over the long term is to create policies that recognize that wages are staying the same but rents are rapidly rising,” said Lori Pampilo Harris, Austin’s Homeless Strategy Officer, in a release Wednesday.

Austin’s proposed draft of the overhaul of the city’s land development code also aims to add affordable housing stock by offering incentives to developers — such as allowing them to build taller structures or more units — on more areas across the city in exchange for including a certain percentage of affordable housing units. In Texas, it’s not allowed to require developers to offer a certain amount of affordable units.

The city also has multiple other programs that offer other ways to help the city achieve its affordable housing goals through budget allocations, through bonds approved by voters, through NHCD, and through the Housing Authority of the City Austin.

“If we are subsidizing at a very deep level, for families who make 20% or 30% MFI — so for a family of four that’s roughly at 30% MFI or $78,000, we can work with our service providers to offer services for those individuals,” Giello said. “If that individual is meeting an income that is a very low income, and we’ve subsidized that unit and they are also getting services, that can qualify them for permanent supportive housing.”

Permanent Supportive Housing

Giello explained that what’s called “permanent supportive housing” is housing that is available to those making 30% MFI or less and also includes connections to services that help that person live a life connected to all the resources they need.

Darilynn Cardona-Biler, the Director of Behavioral Health Systems at Travis County’s integral care, explained that permanent supportive housing has been a researched “best practice” to help individuals who are experiencing homelessness.

“Not everyone experiencing homelessness will need permanent supportive housing, we need to have a variety of housing opportunities that are deeply affordable for people in our community, ” Cardona-Biler added.

Matt Mollica, the Executive Director of Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition noted that in public policy discussions, sometimes permanent supportive housing and other types of low-barrier housing get overlooked.

Mollica believes the city’s release Wednesday shows Austin, “has done a good job of addressing there’s an affordability gap in this city.”

“I’m hoping that in the future they’ll continue to consider permanent supportive housing and access to that resource along with these affordability commitments they’re making,” he added.

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