As Austin grows, so does the need for more affordable housing

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by QUITA CULPEPPER / KVUE News

kvue.com

Posted on May 25, 2010 at 10:06 AM

Updated Tuesday, May 25 at 10:07 AM

The lack of affordable housing in Austin may have reached a critical point.

For thousands living in the Capital City, an  expensive apartment is a luxury they can't afford.  In fact, many are desperately searching for an affordable place to live -- it's a search that leaves quite a few disappointed.

The Housing Authority of the City of Austin's Section 8 program gives out more than 5,000 vouchers every year, to pay a portion of the rent for eligible families. Director of Admissions, Ashalin Palmer, says they're forced to turn thousands of desperate families away.

The waiting list to move into one of Austin's public housing complexes is even longer -- more than 8,000 families are waiting to be placed in a unit.

Officials say the problem is -- there's not enough affordable housing available -- and that the city needs between 3,000 and 4,000 additional affordable housing units for low income families.

"Currently our Section 8 waiting list is closed and we aren't accepting new applicants, we currently have approximately have 4,900 individuals waiting to be called in for an eligibility interview," Palmer said.  "We are working as hard as we can to house individuals, we are in a situation where we're limited in the inventory we have to house individuals."

In 2006, City of Austin voters approved a $55 million bond package to build more affordable housing, but as the city continues to grow -- so does the problem.

"It's a very intimidating problem, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said.  "We have to work on it on all fronts on the assistance side but also on the side that helps people be able to earn more money and also to deploy that money more effectively with mass transit and so forth."

"We need to look at the city we want to be - do we want to b ea city just for rich people? I don't think so, we want to be a city for the people that live here," said City Council Laura Morrison.

City officials say they're going to ask for more money to be allocated to building and developing affordable housing in the next bond election.  In the meantime, there are emergency programs to help those in need of affordable housing, those are done through organizations like the Salvation Army, and Safe Place, which helps hundreds of people every year.

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