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How Foundation Communities helped one Austin musician find affordable housing

Musician James Shelton in his home at Bluebonnet Studios, a Foundation Communities property.
Michael Minasi
Musician James Shelton in his home at Bluebonnet Studios, a Foundation Communities property.

Musician James Shelton moved to Austin in 2007, but it wasn’t until a decade later that he really felt comfortable in his own home.

“The word that comes almost immediately to mind is liberation,” Shelton said. “I felt so freed to have my own place where I know that when I walk in my door, things are going to be where I left them.”

As a working musician, Shelton has never had a steady income. He might have a good month and make $4,000, or he might have a slow one and barely earn enough money to pay rent.

“It depends drastically on what's going on,” Shelton said. “You know, the music business is very seasonal.”

He moved to Bluebonnet Studios, an affordable housing complex on South Lamar, in 2016. Foundation Communities, a nonprofit that provides affordable housing in Austin, built the property, and Shelton was one of the first residents to move in.

Shelton also receives help from the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, or HAAM, which provides access to affordable health care for Austin’s low-income, working musicians.

“I tell people where I live, they say, ‘How do you afford to live in that zip code?’” Shelton said. “I delight every time I have a chance to tell somebody how incredibly blessed I am through the virtues of HAAM and as well as Foundation Communities.”

Foundation Communities bought its first apartment community, Sierra Ridge in South Austin, in 1989. Executive Director Walter Moreau says the nonprofit aims to build beautiful and affordable housing for low-income families of all backgrounds.

“Our model is not just housing, but also onsite services,” he said. “So, we do a lot of afterschool programs and health programs and financial programs. For the most part, our apartments are leased to the general public. So, we have a lot of musicians, because that's Austin.”

Almost every year since it began, Foundation Communities has been able to buy or build a new affordable housing community. Moreau said the nonprofit now has 26 communities that are home to some 7,000 residents. About 1,000 were formerly homeless.

“We have more intensive services and support for folks that have been on the street,” he said. “But 6,000 of our residents are just … folks who would be priced out of Austin. They're earning $20, $30, $40, maybe up to $50,000 a year.”

Shelton lives in one of the handful of affordable housing units Foundation Communities has set aside for musicians in the city. Bluebonnet Studios has five of those units. But as the housing crisis intensifies, musicians in the city may need more help. Moreau says he has his eye on assisting the music scene even more in the future.

“It's time for Austin to have a dedicated housing resource for our music community,” Moreau said.

To hear more of Shelton’s story, and to learn more about affordable housing for musicians, listen to the latest episode of Pause/Play by clicking the listen button above.

Subscribe to Pause/Play on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, NPROne or wherever you get your podcasts.

Miles Bloxson is a producer and host for KUT 90.5 and KUTX 98.9.
Elizabeth McQueen is an audio producer and podcast host at KUTX 98.9, Austin’s NPR music station.
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