AMLI Residential is demolishing the 120-unit complex to make way for a
project with 375 luxury apartments, 45 condominiums, and views of Lady
Bird Lake and downtown.
Thompson says the new housing won't just replace timeworn apartments —
it will replace a neighborhood.
"We lost a beautiful community, where people could literally afford
to sit on their balconies and enjoy the parks and the lake and so on,
and now it's going to be reserved for people with bigger pocketbooks,"
says Thompson, who moved into another apartment in the area.
The story is being repeated across Austin, as developers tear down older
apartment complexes and put up more expensive condos and apartments, or
convert them into condos.
A recent report by city demographer Ryan Robinson said it's one of the
major trends in multifamily development across Austin, driven by the increasing
appeal of close-in living. In many cases, the new projects will have three
to four times as many units as they replaced.
Developers say the change is mostly positive, with new construction replacing
decades-old, often substandard housing and bringing desired density to
Central Austin, helping to curb sprawl.
Without such redevelopment, "many people who would like to live in
town are forced out and face the time and expense of commuting,"
said Brett Denton, a partner with Ardent Residential, which has several
projects in the works.
Ardent plans to build 327 apartments at Bull Creek Road and 44th Street,
replacing 172 units built in the late 1960s, where rents were as low as
$400. On South Lamar Boulevard, the firm plans a 300-unit complex that
will replace 172 units built in the early 1970s.
Since 2006, apartment-to-condominium conversions and redevelopment plans
citywide have taken more than 3,000 older units out of the rental stock,
said Robin Davis, manager of Austin Investor Interests LLC, which tracks
the apartment market.
About half of the teardowns and conversions involve 1960s and 1970s complexes
in prime locations in Central and Southeast Austin, with rents that average
less than $800 a month. The new complexes have rents averaging more than
$1,200, Davis said.
Rents within a 2½-mile radius of Lakeshore Drive are on average
$122 a month less than the average rent in Central Texas, according to
Davis' firm. The area is home to a large student and immigrant population
and is lined with aging strip malls, fast-food restaurants and old apartments
that sometimes don't meet city building and housing codes.
Mac Pike has been a pioneer in transforming the East Riverside area. Three
years ago, Pike and his partner in the Sutton Co., Wally Scott, converted
an apartment complex next to AMLI's future project into the 48-unit Waterfront
Condominiums. They're planning a second phase with 35 to 40 newly built
Pike said there will always be high demand for housing in prime locations:
"It's a case of new replacing old, and that's all it is. Because
of demand and supply, there's a natural relocation of people. It happens
in any market, not just Austin."
Pike said that not every apartment will be replaced with a more expensive
one and that as long as there is a net gain in the number of units, "there's
always going to be affordable housing."
"It may not be in the same place, there's no question about that,"
Pike said, conceding that the former Lakeshore tenants will have trouble
finding another lakefront address. But "every old apartment cannot
continue to stand."
Paul Hilgers, who heads the city's Neighborhood Housing and Community
Development department, says there is no single answer to the large-scale
loss of moderately priced apartments.
But a new city policy designed to encourage mixed-use development along
major roads "is one opportunity to create some affordability and
greater density along neighborhood corridors," he said.
Under that policy, developers are eligible for city incentives tied to
the target income levels for the units reserved for below-market rents.
For example, the city plans to contribute $750,000 to subsidize housing
in Ardent's South Lamar project, where 30 units are planned for households
that make 50 percent or less than the area's median income. Ardent won't
get any incentives for another project that will replace an antique market
on Burnet Road, where below-market units are aimed at families making
80 percent or less of the median income.
And although the below-market rents won't seem cheap to some people, "you
have to look at it relative to what the market would allow the developer
to build without the incentives," Hilgers said.
"The fact is, we need housing at all income levels in all parts of
town, so you don't want to exclude an opportunity for middle-income families
to have housing stock. But it's not the answer for low-income people.
That's not what it's intended to do. We've got other strategies to provide
Charles Heimsath, a real estate consultant who worked on Ardent's South
Lamar project, said his survey found "literally hundreds of other
units in South Central Austin" in the same rent range as the units
to be replaced.
With a city policy that encourages dense mixed-use projects in some areas,
Heimsath said, the older apartments "should be replaced with newer
housing stock that meets today's building codes and has all the appropriate
and desired technology that supports people's lifestyles today."
He stressed, however, that the city should "very carefully and strategically
use" the $55 million affordable-housing bonds that Austin voters
approved last year "to make sure that we are addressing the needs"
of people who can't afford the new complexes.
On East Riverside, AMLI has not determined rents for its project, where
5 percent, or 18 to 20 units, will have below-market rents.
Felipe Alvarez, Lakeshore Apartments longtime maintenance supervisor,
said "99 percent" of the residents were upset about leaving,
and many had trouble finding places to rent at comparable rates.
One applied for low-income housing. Another went to live with her aunt
in El Paso.
"The last few days, all she did was cry," Alvarez said. "She
was worried about finding a place with her income."
Sutton's Pike said the projects that AMLI and his company are building
will have other public benefits, including access to the lake; Lakeshore
was gated. AMLI also has granted a 30-foot easement to the city for plans
to route the hike-and-bike trail along that stretch of the lake, Pike
He said the project will be "very positive for the area, for the
neighbors, the city and the people who live over there."
Mary Baker, property manager of the 204-unit Breakers on the Lake apartments
next to the Lakeshore complex, said that although she's glad to see the
Riverside area changing for the better, "I feel for the people that
are losing their homes and apartments."
"It's difficult to find something comparable to what they had for
the price, and certainly not with a lake view," Baker said.
"I just didn't want to lose Lakeshore," said Jean Patrick, who
managed the property for the past eight years. "It was so small;
it was just like family; you got to know the people. We assimilated into
this nice group of people that was really unique. I just worried about
the people that had to leave for progress' sake."