Four Big Plans Aim To Make Austin More Affordable. Here's What They Would Do. | KERA News

Four Big Plans Aim To Make Austin More Affordable. Here's What They Would Do.

Dec 7, 2018
Originally published on December 11, 2018 7:09 am

The bureaucratic stars over City Hall may just align in 2019.

Next year, the city will weigh four ambitious plans that aim to achieve the long-sought goal of making Austin more affordable.

"Going into 2019 the mandate is pretty clear," said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. "Get to work."

And the city seems well positioned to do that. In addition to those plans, voters approved in November $250 million in bond money to actually fund those efforts to expand affordable housing. And if the Council finalizes a new land development code, the city could maximize any new affordable housing built going forward.

But that's all contingent upon the city acting on those four plans. So, here’s a look at what they propose the city do.

This is the city’s first big, overarching housing plan.

Last year, Austin set a goal of building 135,000 new housing units in 10 years, with of making almost half these homes affordable to someone earning roughly $50,000 a year.

Many of the city’s ideas for how to accomplish this have come from the plans below. Here are some ideas:

  • Create a pot of money the city could use to buy affordable housing similar to the Austin Housing Conservancy, a new nonprofit venture.
  • Offer loans to low-income homeowners who are struggling to pay rising property taxes.
  • Grow the use of community land trusts, an arrangement in which a non-profit owns the land under a home, reducing the cost of homeownership for low-income residents.

Last month, the Anti-Displacement Task Force published their final report – a list of policies the city could adopt to begin to curb gentrification. The list of ideas is lengthy – totaling 107 – and some are prohibited by state law, including the requirement that all new development provides some affordable housing.

But there are other ideas the city could legally adopt that are laid out in the report:

  • Make it easier for low-income homeowners to divide and sell some of their land or build a second, smaller home on their property, which they could later rent out for added income.
  • Finalize a so-called right to return program, which would allow people pushed out of gentrifying neighbors get first dibs on affordable housing in the area.
  • Create a one-stop shop for people to learn about housing resources such as educational programs on homeownership or tax property relief.

Researchers at the University of Texas have released a city-commissioned study on gentrification in Austin – complete with a map of which parts of the city are expected to gentrify soon.

The study includes an assessment of several policy ideas, including a city-run housing voucher program, like one currently being piloted in Denver. Here are some of the other ideas:

  • A system to identify housing where rental income restrictions are about to expire and a program to preserve those limits.
  • Changing the code to allow homeowners to "cut up" their homes and charge rent on another section – to effectively make a single-family home into a duplex.

Early this year community activists devised a list of almost 20 recommendations for housing affordability. Many of these ideas informed the above plans, but here are some other ones:

  • Mandate that all future bond proposals include at least some money for affordable housing.
  • Identify city-owned land for the creation of affordable housing.

So, what now?

Well, there’s no clear path for the Austin City Council to fund all, or any, of these ideas. Early next year, the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department will present Council with a menu of items pared down from the above plans.

Some of the things, however, city staff are already working on, like a right to return program. While other items will have to be brought forwarded (and funded) one by one.

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