The City of Austin demographer stated last year that the number of future housing units needed over the next ten years is approximately 81,000 or about the number that are already being built annually within our city. The 135,500 unit number cited in the Strategic Housing Blueprint is actually the number needed of units needed to accommodate projected growth for the entire Austin MSA, which also includes Round Rock, Cedar Park, San Marcos, Georgetown, Pflugerville, Buda, Kyle and Leander. The demographer’s third quarter report for 2017 further showed there were nearly 47,000 new units currently in the pipeline to be built within our city limits, based on the number of site plans under review or already approved.
During this same quarter, ten new developments were completed, delivering 2,200 new units.
This is all good news in the sense that Austin’s building is already keeping pace with its growth. However, the vast majority of new units being constructed are not affordable by many residents and most are not suitable for families. Clearly, Austin needs more types of housing that are affordable for a range of incomes and that have access to schools, groceries, parks, entertainment and other basic services.
To expedite housing construction, I would support a range of efficiency improvements to the Development Services Department, including the following:
- Implement Zucker Report recommendations, with required progress updates to Council.
- Improve coordination of reviews with departments outside the Development Services Department.
- Begin digitizing the code so that all regulations are clear for each parcel, improving efficiency for both reviewers and property owners.
- Institute regular reviews of the City’s development fee structure to ensure fairness and efficiency, and recalibrate as needed.
- Consider the City Manager’s recommendation to remove the Development Services Department from the regular budget and make it an enterprise fund to ensure staffing keeps pace with workload.
- Support the department goal of 90% permit review completion within 5 business days across all departments/disciplines by April 2019.
- To put more housing where people want to live, I would initiate code amendments to provide “missing middle” housing options, including family-sized units, so these tools are available to be used in community-driven planning efforts. Additionally, I would focus planning initiatives and land development decisions on the creation of “Complete Communities” to provide walkable, bikable neighborhoods with ready access to goods and services in all areas of town, as envisioned in the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan and the regional, town and neighborhood “centers” that were adopted on the Growth Concept Map in Imagine Austin. Every zip code should have neighborhoods where people want to live, and where they can do so without depending on a car for every need.
Finally, I believe multi-unit housing can be zoned in appropriate locations throughout the city. To do so effectively, we must initiate a community dialogue and planning process to achieve our identified housing goals, with each City Council district committed to doing its fair share to accommodate both market-rate and deeply affordable housing. The planning process should consider such factors as access to transportation, health care, schools, groceries and other basic services, as well as existing planning documents and available resources or limitations, such as public land that could be used for deeply affordable housing or conversely, flooding areas with inadequate infrastruction.