City has no effective strategy to meet affordable housing needs, audit finds

The affordable housing audit (KXAN)
The affordable housing audit (KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) —  The city of Austin names affordability as one of its top priorities and biggest challenges. A newly released audit confirms that challenge, finding the city does not meet affordable housing needs and more than half of the units reported as affordable housing were not affordable.

The audit revealed significant shortcomings from 2012 to 2014 in Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department (NCHD), especially when it comes to the oversight of developer incentive programs. These are programs where the city waives developer fees in exchange for providing affordable housing.

“Especially in a time where we have an affordability crisis, we need to make sure that those resources are being used in the most efficient way possible. And it seems like this is a clear example where that’s not happening,” District 8 Council Member and Vice Chair of the Audit and Finance Committee Ellen Troxclair told KXAN.

The audit, released Monday, found that although the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department has created some goals, there is no timeline. “In the absence of clear goals and targets, it is difficult to evaluate the city’s effectiveness in providing affordable housing, and any outcome can be seen as a success,” the audit stated.

The audit went on to details how “Key information needed to evaluate program effectiveness was incomplete, inaccurate, or unavailable. We found flaws in how NHCD counts its affordable housing production, which resulted in NHCD significantly overstating its accomplishments in creating affordable housing; NHCD has incomplete information on affordability restrictions for a large portion of affordable housing units produced; and NHCD has incomplete information on the full costs of affordable housing production.”

Roughly 3,000 units reported as affordable housing were NOT, stemming from errors in developer incentive program data.

In NHCD’s response, it agreed it inaccurately reflected the overall units achieved through the S.M.A.R.T. Housing Program as “affordable.”

The response states, “Because a percentage of the units in the S.M.A.R.T. Housing Program are ‘Reasonably Priced,’ this specific program should have been reflected separately on the slide and/or noted on a separate slide to show the number of affordable units only… NHCD will address/revise any other departmental communications that counts all units created through the Developer Incentive based programs as affordable and clarify that some are mixed income.”

“The city is dropping the ball as of now, with actually confirming those units are being built as we expect them to be and that the people moving into those units qualify for affordable housing,” Troxclair said.

The last major finding pointed out NHCD’s gaps in their monitoring process for affordable units.

“We reviewed documentation for a sample of affordable housing projects that were completed in our scope period. We found that monitoring was not performed timely and not all affordability restrictions were enforced for the sampled projects,” the audit read.

“It’s something we’re going to have to move forward on, we’re gonna move forward on it, but we have to make sure we do it correctly,” Mayor Steve Adler said.

In order to do that, NHCD is in the process of developing a strategic housing plan and, according to the city auditor, is putting together a team to work on compliance and monitoring to make sure families in these affordable housing units are in fact eligible.

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