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Affordability Requires More Housing Options

December 1, 2014

The affordability crisis in Austin today is rooted in basic supply and demand. While incentives, subsidies and regulations can make some difference at the margin, our crisis can only be resolved by adding more housing and by preserving more existing affordable housing.

Let’s do the math: Nearly 760,000 new people are expected to move to the five-county region in the next 10 years. At an average household size of 2.4 people, that means we need a net increase of more than 300,000 housing units throughout the region to maintain the current market equilibrium — which is already unaffordable to many Austinites.

Using these same estimates of growth, in the next 10 years we will need about 69,000 new units within the city of Austin itself. As anyone who’s paid attention to Austin City Hall in recent times can attest, that’s going to be a pretty tall order, as neighborhood associations become even more empowered and committed to fight against “density.”

Restrictive development policies have already priced many area workers out of the city entirely. From the escalating costs of providing public services to crippling traffic congestion and pollution, the consequences of continuing to develop as Austin has been, during a prolonged period of robust growth, would be disastrous.

The Austin real estate community is ready to respond to the needs of a market clearly clamoring for change. Several of the city’s own consultants have concluded that more infill development and more flexibility in preserving aging affordable housing are necessary to address this need.

Change can be difficult, but in this instance the way forward actually borrows from our past. Walk around most urban neighborhoods today, and you will see that garage apartments, small apartment buildings and duplexes have long been part of the built environment.

We need more of these “missing middle” options. But we will also need more urban mid-rise and high-rise housing in appropriate locations. And we will need more single- and multi-family communities throughout the region. In other words, we need all of the above.

Just as Austin’s population has grown and diversified, so must its housing. As community leaders in Central Texas, RECA will continue to push to break down barriers and cut through red tape that has made it so hard for the region to keep up with its own growth with an adequate supply of housing. Working together we can help create all kinds of housing in all parts of town, addressing our affordability challenges and making the region stronger in the process.

RECA has developed a white paper, to be published in the coming weeks, that quantifies Austin’s housing shortage and sets targets for rising to the challenge it presents. It’s part of our ongoing advocacy for more affordable living options in Central Texas.

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