City Program Could Bring Financial Help To Austin Families Struggling To Pay Mortgages

May 24, 2018

The Austin City Council today approved a revised version of a proposal from Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo to create a mortgage-assistance program for low-income homeowners.

The city manager will research similar programs used in other cities and return to City Council with a proposal by September.

Tovo said the program could help fill the gap for families who need long-term financial support, as well as those in need of one-time emergency assistance.

Her resolution cites a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report that shows that when low-income minority families go from owning homes to renting, just 37 percent of them ever go back to being homeowners.

“It’s one of the ways that families build capital,” she said. “Maintaining that homeownership can be so important.”

The conversation around affordable housing in Austin often centers on how the issue could be addressed through CodeNEXT, the ongoing rewrite of the city’s land development code, which will govern what can be built in Austin and where it can go. But as that process grinds on, more city leaders are looking for ways to act now.

At City Hall on Monday, Raul Alvarez, who chairs Austin’s Anti-Displacement Task Force, cited the Austin People’s Plan, a proposal drafted by a coalition of community activists that calls for stronger land restrictions and environmental protections in areas like East Austin.

“There’s only so much you can do to address displacement and gentrification through the zoning code,” he said, “and we felt it was important that some of these things that could be done outside of our conversations about CodeNEXT or land development, that these things could be moving forward.”

The city is also trying to get ahead of rising land costs by issuing an affordable housing bond. The money would allow the city to buy land for future affordable housing and also go toward helping support home repair and rental assistance programs.

A city task force has recommended putting a $161 million affordable housing bond on the ballot. City Council will take up the specifics of the bond language later this summer.

Council Member Delia Garza said Monday she wants to almost double that amount.

“We really have an affordable housing crisis right now," she said, "and I think me and other council members have stated that we really are hoping to get at least $300 million.”

This post has been updated with Council's vote.