AISD and City: Let’s Work Together!
Looking for mutually beneficial uses for publicly owned land
Austin City Council is set to approve a resolution at today's meeting to affirm the city's "support of Austin ISD" and direct the city manager to "prioritize collaborative planning" with the school district on mutually beneficial uses of publicly owned land. The resolution language is vague, and one of its sponsors, District 9 CM Kathie Tovo, noted to the Chronicle that it would not initiate any new work – but both AISD and the city hope a renewed commitment will lead to projects that could provide housing and services to families struggling to make it in an increasingly unaffordable Austin.
AISD Operations Officer Matias Segura shed some light on what that "collaborative planning" could look like; a new committee of AISD and city execs plans to meet biweekly to map out projects for their respective staffs to work out. First on the group's agenda will be a needs assessment: reviewing the land assets each entity owns and determining which of those properties is best suited for meeting community needs. That assessment will help guide what types of projects are prioritized – such as housing, public libraries co-located inside underutilized schools, or parkland accessible to both schools and the wider community. "We're making sure each entity truly understands the asset portfolio of the other and how they are used to support citizens within the city and students within the district," Segura told us. "Everything's on the table as we move through the details of the process, but it's really important that AISD understands what the needs are, so we can stress resources for those needs."
Segura expects the needs assessment to take two to three months and hopes to make recommendations to the Board of Trustees on potential uses when the district's next facilities master plan is due in June. That updated plan is expected to account for some school closures – an earlier AISD report suggested as many as 12, though the district's Budget Stabilization Task Force has not settled on a number. Each closure could save the cash-strapped district about $1 million annually, and (in theory) shuttered campus properties could be used in the city/district partnership.
Neither Segura nor Tovo could guarantee that affordable housing would result from the partnership, though both said the need for it was clear and a priority. The resolution references AISD's declining enrollment; district leaders think one way to stem that decline is to create more affordable housing for families. "The community has been calling for a long time for public entities to use public land for community use," Tovo told us. "My hope and belief in 2019 is to see some of those projects move forward." She noted that some land owned by AISD is east of I-35, a gentrifying part of town where many of the district's underenrolled campuses sit.
One of the major producers of affordable housing in Austin, Foundation Communities Executive Director Walter Moreau, shared cautious optimism about the partnership's potential. In 2016, FC responded to AISD's request for proposals (RFP) to redevelop the former Allan Elementary with an ambitious plan for affordable housing, but the district opted instead to locate its Alternative Learning Center at the site. Moreau said the experience left a bad taste in his mouth, but he's still willing to work with AISD on future opportunities. "The RFP has to specifically seek proposals for affordable housing. As long as the RFP is [just] to sell [to] the highest bidder, that makes it harder for us to compete."