When you think of Georgetown, Texas, you likely think of the historic town square, Southwestern University or fun on the San Gabriel River. But leaders in the county seat of Williamson County also want their city to be known for being a place where people at all income levels can find places where they can afford to live, work and play. Three years ago, the Georgetown City Council started focusing on how to bring more affordable housing to their city, and that was also the topic of the city’s first affordable housing conference on Saturday, August 12 at St Helen Catholic Church. HousingWorks Austin Board Chair Frances Ferguson was the keynote speaker.
Mayor Dale Ross kicked things off. Ross said last year was historic for Georgetown because its Council approved not one, but three affordable housing projects, funded partially by tax credits awarded by the Texas Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program. All three multifamily complexes will be located on Williams Drive. The first, Live Oak Apartments, broke ground last month and is scheduled to be complete before November 2018. Mayor Ross said, “As we go forward, I believe this council will continue to value having strategies to put more affordable housing projects on the ground in Georgetown, Texas.”
Georgetown Assistant City Manager Wayne Reed said there more things the City can do to continue creating affordable housing unit. That includes continuing to partner with nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity. Also, encouraging more developers to build condos that look like single family homes, but are more affordable for the owners because they don’t have to purchase the land. Reed also talked about a community land trust program, something the City of Austin has, and making changes to land use in Georgetown so smaller and multifamily homes can built on smaller, more affordable lots.
Reed said, “If someone wants to build an affordable product in our city, be it through a condominium regime, or a small lot scenario, or town homes, or multifamily. We give them the options that are on the table for the location of where it can be, the standards to which it will need to be built and opportunities to direct them to the path that will provide them the greatest success.”
The next speaker was Norma Perales, the Family Self Sufficiency/Resident Services Coordinator at the Georgetown Housing Authority. Perales shared an entertaining, but serious story called “There’s a hole in the bucket.” She described how easily families can be talked into renting a home that is advertised as affordable, but actually is not, and the lasting, negative consequences that can result.
The conference culminated with Frances Ferguson, who outlined why she founded Foundation Communities and the lessons she learned from that experience. Ferguson commended the people of Georgetown for the work they’ve done to create affordable housing. “You’re village building,” said Ferguson. “Building a city that can behave like a village where not everybody is the same but everybody is needed.”
Ferguson drew a round of applause when she encouraged city leaders to spread affordable housing throughout the city, otherwise poverty will be concentrated in certain areas which can have some negative side effects. She encouraged Georgetown to consider creating a “skinny voucher” program, which will allow the City to pay a portion of low-income residents’ rent for a period of time. She also advised Georgetown to start purchasing land now for future affordable housing communities before the land is sold and is no longer available.
The conference ended with Walt Doering, chairman of Georgetown’s housing advisory commission thanking Frances Ferguson for challenging Georgetown to think big, and to think comprehesensively and creatively.