It’s no secret that affordability is a big issue for our District 7 community.
A recent statistically valid community survey showed that while District 7 residents were broadly satisfied with city services such as parks, libraries, emergency responder services, and overall quality of life, they had real concerns about access to affordable housing. Nearly 80 percent of District 7 respondents were dissatisfied with the availability of affordable housing for low and moderate income families.
During my time on Council, my colleagues and I have been challenged to address housing needs for low-income residents within the limits that the state legislature has allowed. Operating within these limits, we have considered many different ideas for ensuring our families have access to affordable homes, including by putting forward the ambitious affordable housing bond that voters approved last November. One such idea was a resolution, which my colleague Council Member Greg Casar brought forward, that City Council recently approved unanimously.
Under this resolution, the city would relax or waive land use regulations in exchange for significant affordable housing. The new program is targeted at projects that receive city and state investments (such as the recently approved housing bonds), helping leverage those public funds for a greater community return. It would require at least half of all the units in a participating development to be affordable to individuals and families – including deep levels of affordability – in exchange for altered setbacks, compatibility, parking, and other requirements.
I engaged extensively with this proposal when it came before City Council and successfully secured several important amendments, including providing for more deeply affordable units available to families making 30 percent of median family income and an annual report on how the program is performing in practice, which will allow the city to make adjustments and improvements based on the program’s effectiveness.
This is an important conversation for Council to take up. As we saw during the former CodeNEXT discussion, some people were arguing for significantly reducing our regulations without securing commensurate community benefits. My position then was that changes to our land use policies should only be considered if done in such a way that they can be leveraged to accomplish key goals that the city and the community have identified, especially since state law limits our ability to require community benefits such as affordable housing. We shouldn’t just give away entitlements.
This resolution, instead, focused the conversation about revising our regulations where it belongs: on accomplishing a major community benefit and enabling the city to more effectively leverage our housing bond resources – which District 7 residents voted to approve by a wide margin – to achieve a greater number of affordable units in our communities.
Communities across District 7 and Austin as a whole are facing intense growth pressures that are making it more and more difficult for less affluent residents to live in our city – and they are demanding solutions. City Council recognizes these challenges and Council as a body is likely to want to take up many issues relating to affordability and growth, including reviewing our land use regulations. As your Council Member, I will be fully engaged in these debates and will seek to center the conversation around what matters most: providing for our residents’ needs and achieving real, family-friendly benefits that can help keep our communities and our schools vibrant.
Council Member, District 7