City debating how to spend $7M for affordable housing

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Rebekah Baines Johnson Center which sits just east of I-35 could be in store for a major makeover.

The independent senior living center was built in the early 1970’s during President Johnson’s term in office and was once considered a state of the art facility providing healthcare and apartments for seniors.

But nearly 40 years later, not much has changed with the building and now developers are asking the city for $7 million to help pay for a nearly $40 million renovation project to the inside and additional housing on the land surrounding the building.

It’s one of five projects being considered by the Housing Bond Review Committee Tuesday. The group will examine if city staff effectively determined if these projects – which range from granny flats to new apartments – are eligible for bond money.

But there’s a problem, the city only has $7 million in affordable housing money to give out this year and the total amount from all of the requests comes to $15 million. It’s up to the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development office to make recommendations to city council on which projects should receive funding. Things that can sweeten a deal include a project that’s close to public transportation, affordable housing in an area that doesn’t have any, and the length of time units will stay at affordable levels.

“If they provide deep affordability and if they are able to provide long term affordability like 40 to 99 years is highly desirable,” said David Potter, Neighborhood Program Development Manager.

The money that could fund these proposed projects was approved through a $65 million affordable housing bond in 2013. So far $27 million has been spent

After today’s review of the projects The Neighborhood Housing Department will decide on a formal recommendation to city council which they don’t have a date set but hope will happen soon. If all works out 152 new affordable homes will be constructed and 250 units in the RBJ Center would be renovated along with 250 new additional units constructed.

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