Every so often, people drive up to M Station, a housing complex in the East Austin neighborhood of Austin, Texas, and ask about renting apartments. Some of them are driving expensive cars and have plenty of money to spend. They stop in because this looks like a really nice place to live.
M Station is indeed a very nice place to live, with clean, well-landscaped grounds; modern, energy-efficient buildings; friendly neighbors; and easy access to some of the best public transportation in the Austin metro area. But it isn’t for just anyone. M Station is affordable housing – even if it doesn’t look like what some people think of when they hear that phrase.
“We still have folks who drive by who want to live in one of the ‘luxury condos,’ quote unquote,” says Sunshine Mathon, design and development director for Foundation Communities, which owns and manages 15 affordable-housing complexes around Austin, including M Station. “It speaks in part to M Station in particular. But in general, unfortunately, it also speaks to the need for affordable housing throughout the city.” The cost of housing in Austin, according to Foundation Communities, has gone up by 85 percent in the last 10 years.
M Station opened in 2011 and it has been at 100 percent occupancy ever since. Rents range from $595 per month to $1,200. Some units are set aside for those making less than 60 percent of the area’s median income, some for those making under 50 percent, and some for those making less than 30 percent.
The community offers much more than just reasonable rents, however. M Station, like all of Foundation Communities’ developments, provides a spectrum of services and amenities that are designed to help people who qualify to live there gain stability and independence. That’s the mission of this nonprofit organization, founded two decades ago by University of Texas graduates.
Foundation Communities has a “business-like nonprofit model,” using a combination of public and private money to finance its operations. It now owns $67 million worth of real estate and has a $4 million capital fund.
Applicants must meet income requirements and pass background, rental history, and credit checks. “In some ways we are one of the toughest landlords in the city,” says Mathon. “We want to maintain our properties as a positive environment, especially for the children. That being said we also understand that people change and are often looking for a way to improve themselves.”
Services available to residents include financial-literacy classes, free income tax preparation, ESL instruction, and homebuyer education programs. Residents with children – and most of those living at M Station do have them – gain access to a wide range of support, including free after-school and summer programs for elementary and middle-school-age kids. “It’s a very robust program where they actually work with teachers in nearby schools and find out what the homework is going to be,” says Mathon.
Residents in the lowest income group, many of them single mothers, can qualify for the Children’s HOME Initiative, a program that provides an 18-month package of comprehensive case-management services designed to stabilize families that have found themselves in difficult circumstances.
The physical well-being of residents is also a concern, and M Station offers fitness classes for adults, health education, and plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities for kids.
Foundation Communities has emphasized green building techniques since 2000, aiming to lower energy costs, increase the value of its investments, and create a healthier environment for residents. M Station is a platinum LEED certified development whose sustainability is further enhanced by its location: within a quarter-mile walk of a commuter rail station and easily accessible by several bus lines. The complex has a dedicated parking spot for the Car2Go car-sharing service, and an electric-vehicle charging station.
With all of these amenities, and its clean, elegant design, it’s easy to see why people would want to call M Station home. And that, says Mathon, is precisely what Foundation Communities is aiming for. “The bottom line is of our organization is housing where families succeed,” he says. “High-quality housing, where people can feel proud of where they live.”