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For One Austin School, Funding Hangs on Affordable Housing

Residents at the Oak Creek Village apartments in south Austin are waiting to see if the state grants a developer tax incentives to construct a new, larger complex in its place.  The developer, Eureka Family Group, wants to keep 173 units as affordable housing — which would allow current residents to stay in their homes.

But, if the state doesn't approve the project, many residents might have to move.  Educators and parents at the nearby school — Travis Heights Elementary — are also concerned.

Eighty students at Travis Heights Elementary live in the Oak Creek Village apartments. Travis Heights is a Title One school, which means a majority of students are from low-income families.  If Eureka Multifamily Group doesn’t receive the tax credits, it has two options: resubmit its request with the state next year, or build the entire apartment complex at market rate.

If that happens, the current residents couldn’t afford to live in the neighborhood. They’d have to move — and take their children out of Travis Heights. Principal Lisa Robertson says that would disqualify the school for Title One funding — about $39,000 a year.

“We might lose staff, we would certainly have to look at a different fund raising and re-appropriating what our funds were going for," Robertson says. She says losing that many students would reduce each grade level by one class.

Angela Landin has lived at Oak Creek Village for nearly eight years. She has two children who attend Travis Heights Elementary. She says growing up she moved constantly — and her education suffered because of that.

“My mind never focused on my school, my work. I was always worried about where we were going next. My children... I don’t want them to go through that. They know the teachers and they know them, knowing their needs and their learning. To move them — it’s going to get them unfocused," Landin says.

Landin says if Oak Creek doesn’t remain affordable housing, she will have to move in with her mother in Bastrop.

Principal Robertson says continuity is key for low-income families.

“Constant change is not a friend for Title One families," Robertson says. "Nor is it for students to jump from school to school. That upheaval — some of our most successful families will be thrown into I don’t know what kind of abyss."

Members of the Travis Heights community are also concerned the school will lose its diverse student population. Minerva Skeith is a Travis Heights parent and member of the local community group, Austin Interfaith.

“This community is a reflection of Austin," Skeith says. "There are people from all creeds, all colors and different socioeconomic status. And that kind of environment creates a much better experience for all of our children. To us, it’s not so much how we’re going to lose but we’re losing 15 percent of the students that add a diversity that we would be missing."

Fifty percent of Travis Heights Elementary's population is Hispanic. Twenty percent is African American and 20 percent is white.

Right now, Jimmy Arnold with Eurkea Multifamily Group says the company is committed to building affordable housing at Oak Creek.

“We’re advocates of supporting affordable housing in Austin. We made that part of our development because it’d be best for the community," Arnold says.

Arnold says he thinks his project has a high probability of receiving the award. If that happens, Kurt Cadena-Mitchell with Austin Interfaith is hoping it can become a model for future affordable housing complexes in Austin.

“This could be a model where we find a reasonable balance between density as well as preserving deep affordability," Cadena-Mitchell says.

The state will announce in June which projects will receive tax incentives. 

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