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Austin’s first-ever housing plan hits City Hall

Tuesday, June 7, 2016 by Syeda Hasan

This week, city leaders released a draft of Austin’s first-ever strategic housing plan. Unlike broader visions for the city’s future, it focuses on how development will impact the housing supply.

The plan is the direct result of a startling 2015 audit of the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department. In that audit, the Office of the City Auditor recommended strategic planning for the city’s affordable housing needs and goals after discovering that the department lacked clear goals, timelines and effective monitoring practices.

Austin’s population is projected to grow by almost 3 percent next year. To meet that growing demand, the plan calls for adding 75,000 housing units, with 35,000 of them being affordable.

Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Director Betsy Spencer presented the plan with her department on Monday before City Council’s Housing and Community Development Committee.

“This is no big surprise,” Spencer said. “The cost of land in high-opportunity areas is significantly higher, and that’s a big contribution to why we have so few affordable units in those areas.”

Before drafting the plan, staff gathered input from residents across all 10 Council districts. A majority of people agreed that Austin’s affordable housing should be distributed evenly throughout the city and also located near transit and schools. Additionally, the plan recommends that 25 percent of those affordable units be family-friendly, meaning they have two or more bedrooms.

Erica Leak, with the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office, says meeting those goals won’t be easy, but it could keep the city’s housing crunch from getting any worse.

“We need to come together as a community to adopt a plan to really make headway on this issue,” Leak said.

In order to meet projected housing demand, the city would have to get creative with funding. The plan recommends building on existing programs along with redirecting funds from other places toward affordable housing. One idea is to build the housing on publicly owned land.

Council Member Ann Kitchen said the plan offers some other useful strategies as well.

“This is getting there for me, so I’ll be wanting to think about, ‘OK, so, how do we figure out where?’ as one of our next questions,” Kitchen said.

The Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office will take more public comments this summer before issuing a revised plan. It’s hoping to get final approval from Council late this year.

Update: Audio from Hasan’s KUT piece is embedded below.

This story is the result of a partnership between the Austin Monitor and KUT News.

Graph courtesy of the city of Austin.


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