by Bobbie Jean Sawyer
Foundation Communities, a non-profit organization devoted to providing affordable housing throughout the city, is applying for funds to expand Southwest Trails apartments by 60 units on an eight-acre plot of land between Highway 71 and the current location at 8405 Old Bee Caves Road in Oak Hill.
“We’ve got land under contract that’s adjacent to us,” said Walter Moreau, executive director of Foundation Communities. “We’re just at the beginning stage so we haven’t got our site planning and engineering done.”
The Southwest Trails apartments, which were completed in 2001 as the first affordable housing in Southwest Austin, are made up of 160 apartments designated for working families in a $20,000 to $40,000 yearly income range. Rent is about $700 per month for a two-bedroom unit, Moreau said.
“Most of our families are working and everybody pays rent. It’s not Section 8 housing. It’s not public housing,” Moreau said. “We think it’s really important to still have some very well-maintained, first class affordable housing that can serve Southwest Austin.”
Moreau said Southwest Trails has established itself as an integral part of Oak Hill.
“We really love Oak Hill and we’ve been part of the community. OHAN (Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods) supported Southwest Trails 12 years ago, so since we’re at the beginning of the process, we really are asking for the neighborhood support again,” Moreau said. “We’re very proud of our track record. We’re not coming into the neighborhood from some place else. We’ve been here.”
Affordable housing has been an issue at the forefront of local politics. In November, Austin residents voted in favor of a $65 million affordable housing bond.
Moreau said the vote is indicative of voters’ growing awareness of Austin’s housing problem.
“For all of our new developments we’ve had a funding gap. The bonds have helped to fill that gap,” Moreau said. “I think this election voters have had more time and paid attention to see how the housing bonds are spent.”
Moreau said due to an increased cost of living and higher property taxes, many working families with household incomes less than $50,000 are getting priced out of the city.
“What we’re seeing is hardworking families that can’t afford the rent here are giving up on Austin and moving out of the region or moving to the suburbs, which then impacts traffic,” Moreau said.
In addition to affordable housing, Foundation Communities also provides onsite tutoring for residents and neighborhood kids through the Learning Center.
Isaac Rosales, coordinator at the Southwest Trails Learning Center, said the facility provides educational assistance to about 48 kindergarten through 5th grade students per week, offering after school homework assistance, reading programs and access to a computer lab.
The Learning Center, which employs six full time staff members, also provides English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for adults. The center offers free childcare for the duration of the classes, which are held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Judge Susan Steeg, Travis County Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace and president of the Oak Hill Rotary Club, frequently worked with students at the Learning Center as part of the Rotary Club’s literacy outreach efforts.
Steeg said the Southwest Trails Learning Center, which is one of 10 centers operated by Foundation Communities, provides invaluable assistance to working parents, helping families balance work and school.
“A lot of these parents are at work until 6 o’clock and then they have to pick up the kids and make dinner and get them ready for the next day. So I thought it was great for them to have the kids ready with their homework already done for the next day,” Steeg said. “Working families have a lot to juggle and this was a way that the kids would be able to complete their homework and be able to get that one-on-one help for subjects that they needed help with.”
Rosales said the Learning Center not only provides educational assistance, but also helps ease financial stresses on parents.
“Just in the after school program and the summer program, there’s humongous money savings, especially for parents that wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford childcare, but they have to have childcare because they have to go to work,” Rosales said. “That’s a gigantic savings for our families and it also lessens the burden on bill-paying.”
Rosales also stocks the apartment community’s food pantry with food from the Capital Area Food Bank.
“Hard times unfortunately happen,” Rosales said. “When you’re having to decide between paying a bill or being able to pay your rent and maybe a couple bags of groceries, we are fortunately able to step in and just let them know—especially if you’re in an emergency situation—you can come by once a week to get food.”
Foundation Communities has an additional project in the works for Southwest Austin. Moreau said the Homestead Apartments, which will include 140 affordable housing units and a Learning Center, is slated for completion in 2015 and will be located on a 29-acre tract of land near the intersection of Slaughter Lane and Brodie Lane.
For more information on Foundation Communities visit www.foundcom.org.
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