City questions if The Domain is providing enough affordable housing

Austin

Some city leaders say The Domain, a booming development in north Austin, isn’t holding up its end of the bargain.

In 2003, the city of Austin agreed to provide tax rebates to The Domain, in exchange for creating jobs and affordable housing and boosting the local economy.

After reviewing a special report released by the City Auditor’s Office, however, City Council Member Leslie Pool says it’s now time to end the 25-year agreement.

“I was not surprised by the outcome,” Pool said.

According to the audit, the city couldn’t find proper documentation that proved The Domain consistently set aside 10 percent of its rental units for families earning 65 percent or less than the median income. 

Auditor Corrie Stokes explained to KXAN, “While they went in and monitored it, and looked at documents to verify eligibility, they didn’t retain that documentation, so that’s where we couldn’t really tell did they, or did they not.”

The agreement between the city and The Domain said The Domain had to comply with the 10 percent affordable housing requirements, create at least 1,100 permanent jobs and designate $1 million “Domain Fund” to help small, local businesses to open at the development. 

Stokes said about the affordable housing clause, “We can say that we’ve done the monitoring to make sure that the units are maintained. I don’t know we can say 100 percent, especially not having done in-depth work, having just tried to answer some specific questions, I don’t think we did the level of work to say that it’s perfect.”

She said the city has recently hired a contractor to keep track of the income eligibility documents for affordable housing units at The Domain, but it’s too early to say whether their work is complete. 

Council Member Pool, who represents the district that includes The Domain, said, “Those documents were hard to find, hard to put together, in some cases simply not available or missing. That raises a level of concern for me.”

When asked about the contractor being hired, Pool said that’s too little too late. “It’s like closing the barn door after the horse has run off. That oversight should have been in place, should have been robust.”

Pool said the city should exercise the out clause of the contract and end the deal. “It does not carry any penalty,” she said.

According to Pool, The Domain has been successful at boosting the local economy, so she doesn’t believe they need the tax rebates for another 10 years. “We can use that $20 million for all kinds of things related to housing,” Pool said. “There’s a long list of needs in our community. Jump-starting the economic needs of The Domain has been successful.”

The audit also found The Domain isn’t doing enough to help local businesses, as it promised in the agreement. 

Seven local businesses signed 10-year leases, opening in 2007 and 2008, according to the audit. Five of them got help from a fund set aside by The Domain to help local businesses grow. 

Today, none of those 5 are open. Only two of the seven who signed leases are still operating.

The Domain says they were not required to provide additional assistance to local businesses once they reached $1 million. 

We reached out to Simon Property Group, the current owner of The Domain, to ask for a response to the audit. We haven’t heard back. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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