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Council members consider ways to refine Strategic Housing Plan

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 by Syeda Hasan

In recent weeks, the release of Austin’s first-ever strategic housing plan has faced scrutiny as well as garnered support at public meetings. The plan aims to address the city’s growing affordability crisis by setting goals for new housing production. Tomorrow, City Council members are set to vote on whether or not to adopt the plan, and they’re proposing some changes to make the implementation process smoother.

Council members have been hearing public testimony on the proposed Strategic Housing Plan for the past two weeks, but some say they need more time. At Tuesday’s work session, Council Member Ora Houston asked for the vote to be postponed to allow for more public engagement and input. She also wants the city’s Zoning and Platting Commission to hold a hearing on the housing plan.

“I’m sure you all know that the commission is responsible for 68.5 percent of Austin’s geographical area, and they would like to see the plan and offer some recommendations before it’s finalized,” Houston said.

Houston, who represents part of East Austin, also raised questions about some geographic strategies outlined in the plan. It prioritizes placing affordable housing near frequent transit routes and Imagine Austin corridors. Houston noted that much of that infrastructure is concentrated in the east, while it remains scarce in wealthier, West Austin districts, and she worries these proposed strategies may contribute to further gentrification in her district. But Council Member Delia Garza, who represents parts of Southeast Austin, disagreed. She said policies outlined in the housing plan could bring much needed resources to the area.

“We don’t have jobs east of 35,” Garza said. “We don’t have town centers. We don’t have grocery stores. We don’t have amenities that we’ve all been advocating for, and the purpose of this is to say, how do we get that stuff east of 35? We don’t have it west because West Austin already has grocery stores. They have jobs.”

Council Member Ann Kitchen later offered an amendment to refine some of the plans goals. She said not every corridor or Council district has equal capacity for affordable housing. Her amendment calls for considering the amount of affordable housing that already exists in each district and setting goals for added units accordingly. Kitchen also wants the city manager to draft specific steps for implementation, identify priorities and establish a timeline for reporting progress to Council.

“This action plan would be more specific in terms of resource needs for the particular plan implementation, and that might be funding or kinds of necessary resources,” Kitchen said.

While city staff say adoption of the housing plan isn’t necessarily an urgent matter, taking action now would align well with next week’s release of the CodeNEXT map.

Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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