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HousingWorks breaks down Austin’s affordability

Friday, September 4, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

For the second year, HousingWorks Austin has taken a close look at the city’s household affordability crisis in each City Council District.

The study has found some startling disparities. Perhaps the greatest contrast is the difference in distribution of subsidized housing between Austin’s eastern and western Council districts. Currently, Districts 1, 2 and 3 contain 58 percent of the city’s subsidized housing, while the combined amount of subsidized housing in Districts 6, 8 and 10 is only 3 percent.

Currently, District 1 has 4,197 subsidized units, District 2 has 2,010, District 3 has 5,428 and District 4 has 3,564. In comparison, District 6 has 153 subsidized units, District 8 has 271 and District 10 has 171.

“There are disparities. There’s no getting around it,” said HousingWorks Executive Director Mandy De Mayo when she spoke to the Austin Monitor about the study. She is optimistic about future affordable housing across the city, noting that she is already seeing a shift helped by a recent Supreme Court decision and the fact that the city now takes geographic distribution into account when deciding how affordable housing bonds are used. Nonetheless, she says, things are how they are.

“There’s only 3 percent, essentially, west of MoPac. And that, to me, speaks to some glaring inequities,” said De Mayo. “The truth is that we have low- to moderate-wage jobs in those Council districts, but we do not have the housing stock to support those folks.”

That problem isn’t just confined to the city’s westernmost neighborhoods, however. The study also confirms the troubling fact that while housing costs continue to rise in the city, incomes do not.

This is especially apparent in District 3, which covers most of Central East Austin. Within the district, the median family income is $36,185, but the median home price is $255,000, and average monthly rent is $1,172. As the executive summary notes, “On average, District 3 rents consume nearly 40 percent of the median family income. In addition, the median home price in District 3 is more than seven times the median family income.”

In District 3, 13 percent of homeowners and 30 percent of renters are considered “extremely cost-burdened,” which means that more than half of their income is going toward housing. When that is the case, said De Mayo, “there is very little left over at the end of the month to pay for, really, necessities. Food, benefits, transportation – just kind of the basics.” Indeed, 36.4 percent of District 3 residents live below the poverty line.

According to the study, a quarter or more of households are living below the poverty line in Districts 1, 3, 4 and 9. District 2 comes in just under that threshold, with 24.8 percent of the population living in poverty.

In comparison, in District 10, about 7.8 percent of residents live below the poverty rate. There, the median family income is $131,100, the median home price is $544,870, and the average monthly rent is $1,255. Despite the higher incomes, 9 percent of homeowners and 19 percent of renters are considered extremely cost-burdened. District 8 has the lowest poverty rate, however, at just 4.9 percent, with 9 percent of homeowners and 13 percent of renters spending more than half of their income on housing.

“It is interesting even in wealthy districts, there are still people living in poverty, and there are unsheltered homeless people in every single district. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a rich district or a poor district,” said De Mayo.

This year, the study also reported on the average numbers of mass transit trips, bus stops per square mile and vehicle miles traveled.

“Transit matters,” said De Mayo. “It’s critical that we think about where we locate housing, particularly affordable housing. … We just want to get decision-makers and policy folks thinking about the importance of that connection – that intersection between housing and transit.”

Photo by Joe Mabel [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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