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City Council to meet for special session on housing supply

Monday, November 22, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

City Council is convening Nov. 30 to discuss what Mayor Steve Adler has called one of Austin’s “greatest present challenges” – housing supply.

In a City Council Message Board post co-authored with Council Member Alison Alter last Wednesday, Adler outlined the strategy up for discussion at the special session: allowing residential housing units in commercially zoned areas.

In a proposed resolution, Council would begin the process of amending the Land Development Code to allow for residential construction in CS, CS-1, GR, LR, GO, and LO zoning districts, a number of areas that are currently zoned for commercial purposes.

The proposal would direct City Manager Spencer Cronk to put together an affordability bonus requiring that 10 percent of units built are affordable to households at 60 percent of the median family income.

The resolution also has some more granular objectives; for example, it includes a provision that would “provide an incentive” to raise the ground floor of buildings by 5-10 feet for retail spaces, though the finer points still need to be fleshed out.

The resolution draft is looking to add 46,324 housing units to the city’s housing supply as a result of these code changes. The figure comes from a 2018 estimate from a Planning Commission working group.

These changes to the zoning code come at a time when Austin’s housing market continues to be in a frenzy. In October, the median sale price for a home in Austin was $550,000, 20 percent higher than last year, according to Redfin. For renters, who make up the largest share of the population, the average monthly rent is now around $1,600 a month, according to Apartment List data.

So far, the proposal has strong support in Council. Posting to the message board, Council Member Leslie Pool wrote, “I support the concept of residential uses being permitted in certain commercial zoning districts. These specific amendments should increase the possibility of live-work spaces around the city, especially in areas of high transit opportunity, and with corresponding affordability requirements.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by Council members Greg Casar, Ann Kitchen and Kathie Tovo – though it’s also clear that more needs to be done to ease the city’s housing pains as demand continues to outpace supply.

Earlier this month, Adler listed off some additional ideas and concepts such as public-private partnerships, revising parking requirements, creating development incentives, adding more ADUs, and working with universities like the University of Texas and Huston-Tillotson to increase student housing.

Photo by Bicanski on Pixnio. This story has been changed since publication to include Council Member Alter’s leadership on the commercial housing proposal. 

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