Jack Kemp Excellence in Affordable and Workforce Housing Awards 2019 – Chairman’s Award Winner: The Chicon

The Chicon is a mixed-income, mixed-use project one block from what was once the worst open-air drug market in Austin, Texas. Two three-story buildings are home to 28 owner-occupied units above 8 owner-occupied commercial spaces. These buildings have been named The Joyce and The Gibbs after local African-American leaders.

The Chicon is a grassroots, neighborhood-led development: the ground floor is occupied by local small business owners, vetted by community volunteers, and residential units are owner-occupied. The affordable units are part of a land trust. It is the very first for-sale affordable housing in Austin to be mixed-income with a mixed-use component.

On the exterior, deep awnings, sidewalk plantings, benches, bike racks, and other “great streets” features create a new-urbanist feel. Buildings are classic in form yet contemporary in feel. Each unit has a balcony with cedar plank ceilings. Views from the Joyce building include the Texas Capitol and downtown. The Chicon includes multiple green features, and the steel-framed buildings meet Austin Energy Green Building Standards.

Most notable were the many challenges behind this development. The neighborhood was blighted and un-financeable, yet prices were rising. The variance process took one year. The site plan approval process took another year. Finally, construction started using City of Austin funds. Then, a typographic error in the title led the lender to drop out of the project. Resolving the title issue took over a year, which was ultimately cleared with an administrative lawsuit. During this time construction prices increased creating a financing gap. Finally, a new lender was secured and construction resumed. Then, it was discovered the building was too close to planned power lines. After months of negotiations with the City of Austin, Austin Energy agreed to raise the power lines. Another lawsuit over property lines and additional infrastructure setbacks delayed the project further.  Construction pricing continued to escalate, and Austin faced a labor shortage. Yet, Frost Bank, TSAHC and the City of Austin Neighborhood Housing and Community Development and Bartlett Cocke Construction all remained faithful to the project. Without this kind of support, a small volunteer-run organization like CNRC could never have completed The Chicon.

Location: Austin, TX
Chestnut Neighborhood Revitalization Corporation, Structure Development, Pegasus Planning and Development
Owner:  Chestnut Neighborhood Revitalization Corporation
Partners: The City of Austin Neighborhood Housing and Community Development, Hatch Ulland Owen Architects, Frost Bank, Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation, Bartlett Cocke Construction

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