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Affordable multifamily housing becomes focus for Austin Habitat for Humanity

High price of land drives cost of building new single-family homes out of range for nonprofit

Architect’s drawing of new six-story apartment building with yellow patio railings and orange panels on upper floors.
Rendering of planned Habitat for Humanity multifamily project near the new Saltillo development
Courtesy of Page Architects

For more than four decades, Habitat for Humanity has been galvanizing communities to build homes for those who couldn’t afford them, becoming a household name as well as a familiar site in the media and in neighborhoods. In Austin, its volunteers and new homeowners have built entire neighborhoods—most of them consisting of single-family homes for which Habitat usually purchases the land.

Now, according to a story posted on the KXAN website Friday, the nonprofit will turn its focus to building affordable multifamily housing instead—including a 57-unit building with one-, two- and three-bedroom condos at 1409-1411 East Fourth Street, announced in May and scheduled to break ground in spring 2020.

The move to multifamily projects is due to increasing land costs, according to Habitat vice-president Billy Whipple. Only by creating denser housing, which allows many more residents per square foot on a plot of land than do single-family homes, can the nonprofit continue to keep costs low enough for the housing they build to remain affordable for the low-income families it serves.

Whipple also told KXAN that Habitat is able to build the low-income condo complex near Saltillo because of a measure the Austin CIty Council adopted in May. Called “Affordability Unlocked” by councilmember Greg Casar, who made the original proposal, the allows loosening of certain zoning restrictions and providing incentives for higher density in affordable and mixed-income developments.

Habitat is still working on getting permits for the project, KXAN reported, but in the meantime will finish building the 67 planned single-family homes in Scenic Point, an East Austin neighborhood being built by the nonprofit.