Walter Moreau is a developer with a unique vision.
Walter’s vision is to bring housing into downtown Austin for people who earn $15.00 per hour, or less.
Proposed is a 135 efficiency-style apartment building (for rent) at the southwest corner of 11th & Trinity. The site is currently a surface level parking lot. It is intended that 27 of the units will be reserved for people with absolutely no income, specifically clients of Caritas, Trinity Center, ARCH, and the Salvation Army.
Musicians can afford it. Many downtown workers, including State employees can afford it. Veterans on disability can afford it. Initially, the average rent would be between $400-650 per month, all bills paid.
Walter is the Executive Director of Foundation Communities (FC), a nonprofit affordable housing developer. FC has a track record of success. Established in 1990, FC is owner and manager of 13 communities all around Austin and built with support of local neighborhood associations. They are a long term owner, have never sold one of their properties, and claim they never intend to. Last year FC opened M Station on MLK: the first LEED for Homes Platinum apartment building in the entire country!
Here’s the rub: FC cannot build an affordable housing community without the express support of the immediate neighborhood association. In this case, it’s either DANA or the DAA.
I was invited by FC to tour their other buildings, which was needed because I wasn’t really educated about affordable housing. Elliott McFadden, the communications director for FC (also the publisher of Austin On Two Wheels), succinctly explained what affordable housing isn’t.
1) is not Section 8
2) is not temporary housing
3) is not a rehab center
A couple of residents invited us into their apartments. For them, FC was their home – their foundation – which they took great pride in. The facilities appeared to be well managed and safe, a result of background checks on tenants and of good management.
How does Capitol Terrace fit into the downtown neighborhood?
All projects have economic and physical constraints. Good developers and architects find solutions. At the first presentation to DANA, there was a lack of vision for making Capitol Terrace pedestrian friendly. There was no programming at the sidewalks.
When DANA is asked for input, we expect new buildings to contribute to the fabric of a walkable downtown Austin. That’s the standard we hold other buildings to, and Capitol Terrace is no different.
Designing a building from the ground up such that an entire block has zero pedestrian engagement is unacceptable. I don’t always expect retail on the ground floor, but windows, doors, and wide-ish sidewalks seem to characterize what is minimally acceptable.
Then They Engaged Dick Clark Architecture.
I’m used to hearing promoters: “If we can’t do this exactly how we want then the project is dead! It won’t happen!” and other such posturing phrases which dare stakeholders to opine about how the proposal is good/bad/needs improvement.
Yesterday, during a meeting with Dick Clark’s office, we observed that FC listened to DANA’s feedback, and the design team made great strides in programming the streetscape.
For example, include dedicated Car2Go. Include the burgeoning Austin Bike Share. Don’t shy away from non-standard retail options. YES! These guys get it! Downtown Austin housing, whether subsidized or market rate, should look and feel seamless, and that starts on the ground level.
I’ve learned a lot. If the ideas for programming the ground floor can be realized, this development is a harbinger of successfully integrating dense affordable housing options into downtown Austin.
I’m optimistic Walter and Foundation Communities can do it.