Historic East Austin home gets tenant with affordable rent

Patricia Torres will be "home for Christmas" this year.  And that home happens to be the historic but newly-restored "Lopez House" -- prime real estate overlooking downtown Austin. 

"I just can’t wait to come home now," Torres said. 

The Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation started restoring the property earlier this year.  The non-profit provides affordable housing for people in the neighborhood. The GNDC's Cassandra Ramirez says it's the childhood home of one of their board members.

"It had been boarded up and there had been a fire here and there was pressure to do something with it," Ramirez said.

So they gave the house a complete make-over along with energy-efficient upgrades like solar panels.  The result: a house that a lucky client of the corporation could move into with affordable rent.  Torres was chosen. Her rent is just $575 a month, all bills included. Torres says she feels blessed.

"I see myself very different now.  And it's because of this house," Torres said.

Ramirez says Central East Austin has changed dramatically over the past 10 to 15 years. Affordability is a major concern as longtime residents get priced out.

"You have lots that were once $15,000, $20,000. It seemed like a lot 20 years ago are. Add $100,000 to that and that's what you're looking at," she said.

Torres has come a long way.  She grew up in the Montopolis neighborhood and says she was once homeless.  So she put herself on the GNDC's waiting list for affordable housing.  In the meantime she's been living in a much smaller apartment with higher rent.

"It was an efficiency.  So it was like you had to slide to the side to move from the bed to the door to the restroom area.  And here it's like...I have to walk miles," Torres joked.

Torres says when she was called about being selected, she didn't understand where exactly she was going.  She was just hoping for a balcony at least.

"She was like 'No,' she goes 'you're going to have two big porches, you're getting a house!' and I was like 'my God!"  I don't know how I looked but my whole body, just goosebumps everywhere," Torres said.

Torres says this has changed her life.  She's looking forward to hosting her family for Christmas this year, something she hasn't been able to do in a long time.

"I didn't have a space for them to sit at.  My family would hardly ever visit me.  My mother would hardly ever visit me.  So now I'm hoping that that's going to change.  And I'm planning to have my Christmas get-together here," Torres said.

Not only is Torres's rent affordable now, it will be for the rest of her life and beyond. Permanent affordability for 99 years, meaning for as long as Torres lives there, her rent will be an affordable percentage of her monthly wages.

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