Affordable housing crucial to keeping Austin growth on track



Posted on April 18, 2012 at 6:28 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 18 at 9:14 PM

AUSTIN -- A budget presentation to Austin City Council Wednesday morning touched on everything from tourism to property taxes. The big picture is Austin's steady growth isn't expected to stop. The key focus now is how to handle it.

Call it the city of opportunity. In a country once crippled by recession, Austin stayed strong. Numbers dipped, but new jobs put Austin's recovery ahead of schedule -- jobs that often go unseen.

"When you think about the jobs downtown you think about attorneys, you think about public relations, business folks, folks earning a lot of money," explained housing advocate Mandy De Mayo. "But all of those folks, those jobs have to be supported by other jobs that earn significantly less."

The consultant with Austin's Housing Works says high rise offices aside, one fourth of all workers downtown earn less than $13.50 an hour. It's those workers, De Mayo is dedicated to helping find homes.

"You or I may not need to live in affordable housing, but we all need affordable housing as a community," said De Mayo.

The M Station affordable housing development off East MLK is a prime example.

"If I hadn't come to the M Station, they probably would have put me in a nursing home somewhere," smiled retired school teacher Ollie Umoh.

Umoh is one of the several hundred residents who qualify through income. Capital Metro's Red Line runs right across the street, and a learning center tutors local children.

"It's not only for the handicapped or the low income," said Umoh. "It's for university students, and different walks of life."
The need for affordable housing can be directly traced back to the bursting of the housing bubble where families that once qualified to own their own home are now left to search for something else.

"The old days of you had to put 20 percent down evaporated for a while, and now they're back," explained economist Jon Hockenyos. 

Wednesday morning, the economist with TXP presented his economic forecast for Austin to the city council. In it, he called affordable housing a proxy for available workers saying without a workforce, the city would suffer from a reduced tax base as people sought out the suburbs.

In 2006, for the first time in Austin's history voters approved bonds for affordable housing. However, with that money already spent, voters can expect a similar proposal in this November's bond package.