October 23, 2015
As members of the real estate industry, many of us are familiar with the affordability crisis facing the City of Austin. The average rent in the Austin area increased 50 percent from 2004 to 2013 while median incomes rose by only 9 percent. More than half the city’s renters and 28 percent of homeowners also spend more than the recommended 30 percent of their income on housing. Tens of thousands of housing units need to be added within the city to help bring the market back into balance and stabilize ever-rising prices and rents.
How do we achieve this goal and also enable and encourage all kinds of housing types, in all parts of town, at a variety of price points? It is time for those of us who are passionate about housing supply, housing diversity, affordability and our city’s future to educate ourselves and speak up.
Imagine Austin is a 343-page blueprint for the city’s future, shaped by input from thousands of Austin residents and unanimously adopted by the Austin City Council in 2012. The plan committed to move the city away from the unsustainable, sprawling land use patterns it had long relied on to absorb new residents. Unfortunately, Austin is steadily losing ground in its efforts to become a “beacon of sustainability, social equity and economic opportunity,” as Imagine Austin envisioned.
Many people are working hard to bring Austin back into balance and adhere to the fundamentals of Imagine Austin, but it is much easier said than done. We can all recall an article or news clip highlighting the opposition some developers face as they bring a new project online, whether that be at the City level or with various neighborhood groups. We’ve seen recent examples of this with the proposed traffic improvements along MoPac, The Grove at Shoal Creek, and the proposed Planned Unit Development (PUD) at Spicewood Springs. As the landscape of Austin continues to expand and change, working with a common goal of smart, sustainable development will allow Austin to continue being a city people want to be a part of and bring their business to. The question we face as Austinites is, “what does this mean for me and my family, and what can I do to help?”
I recently asked myself that exact question and wanted to have a solid understanding on the impact the proposed developments near my home would have, not just on the traffic and schools, but if they align with the ideals of Imagine Austin. There was an overwhelming amount of information floating around, which made it difficult to sort the fact from fiction. I knew that if I truly wanted to understand the positives and negatives, I couldn’t rely on Facebook posts, articles or blogs to get there. There is always going to be a grey area, and the truth lies somewhere in between both sides. It is up to each of us to seek out that truth instead of conforming to what we hear from our neighbors or see on signs lining our streets. Once I had done my own research and consulted with various trusted sources who are educated on the topic, I was able to draw my own conclusions and voice an informed opinion to my City Council member and the council as a whole. I did not want my voice to go unheard or be potentially misrepresented by a group, something that happens far too often.
All of that said, neighborhood groups will always play a role in shaping our city’s future. Many residents have great ideas about how to make their neighborhoods better or how to utilize certain space, and they rely on these groups to convey their message. However, my message is that we are each responsible for being our own voice amidst the group. Complacency is not the way to address these critical issues in our city. We will be living, working and playing in Austin for years to come, and we should all desire a say in how that’s going to look for us and our children. Austin roughly doubles in population every 25 years, so it’s not a question of if we will grow, it is how we will handle it. It is critical that we continue to support the goals Imagine Austin originally set out to achieve.