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Fixable Barriers Continue to Make Housing Less Affordable

August 24, 2015

At the RECA Exchange event earlier this month, we released our second white paper on housing affordability in Austin. The event itself was a huge success, and we’ve already received lots of positive feedback on the newest paper.

Our first white paper in January called for the City of Austin to add at least 100,000 new housing units over the next ten years to stabilize prices and tackle Austin’s affordability crisis. It also called for more diversity in housing types such as garage apartments, micro-units, row houses, etc. In the newest paper, we diagnose the barriers that are making this goal difficult to achieve. There are two main obstacles to building the housing that we desperately need:

  1. Regulatory Barriers:
    The city’s dysfunctional development review process and obsolete land development code create major delays that can add tens of thousands to the cost of new housing — driving up rents, crippling efforts to produce income-qualified affordable housing, and ultimately placing the city at risk of violating federal fair housing guidelines. While efforts are underway to fix both the process and the code, the city must also take advantage of opportunities at its disposal right now to reduce development delays.
  2. Neighborhood Opposition
    Austin’s neighborhood plans, many of which were created 15-20 years ago, do not, as they should, serve to implement the vision of the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan. Instead, they directly undercut that vision, discriminate against new residents, and help drive lower-income residents to the outer reaches of Austin. Far from protecting the “character” of (generally affluent) central city neighborhoods from “greedy developers,” the political power and unreasonable demands of neighborhood leaders are driving away those very people that give Austin its character.

Throughout the paper, RECA issues specific calls to action to address the many challenges. Some are simple, such as moving responsibility for completion of all reviews into the Development Services department, instead of dividing it between the dozen city departments now involved in the process. Other calls are bolder and politically more difficult – such as requiring that adopted neighborhood plans either be updated to align with Imagine Austin, eliminating opt-out provisions, or be repealed entirely.

Our city is in the midst of a crisis that calls for courageous action to eliminate barriers to building the housing we need right now. The market can step up and meet the needs and incomes of far more Austinites if the city will address the obstacles that currently make developing in Austin such a difficult and expensive undertaking.

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