I am deeply concerned about improving access to affordable housing for both renters and owners who have not shared in our city’s recent financial success. The influx of thousands of highly compensated tech workers has skewed our housing market in favor of the financially fortunate, while wages for many equally important jobs – teachers, service industry workers, childcare givers, cashiers – have not kept pace with Austin’s rising costs. Unfortunately, Texas law prohibits cities from enacting livable wage ordinances for private employers above the federal minimum and also prohibits many common affordable housing tools, such as inclusionary zoning, rent stabilization and linkage fees.
That said, there are some actions the city can take to help ease these pressures, which I will undertake as mayor:
• Commit to a plan to put a fair share of affordable housing, both rental and ownership units, in every Council District, recognizing that each district should contain a mix of housing for varied income levels and should consider such factors as access to transit, health care, schools, groceries and other basic services.
• Work with large employers to encourage partnerships to provide workforce housing.
• Employ Community Land Trusts (CLTs) to reserve public land for affordable housing and establish a land-banking program to further increase the amount of land available for affordable units.
• Stop the practice of giving property tax breaks to corporations that locate here in this boom environment. Rising property taxes put a burden on homeowners and are also passed along to renters in the form of higher rent. When corporations are given a pass, it puts a greater tax burden on the rest of us, including renters.
• Set a formal policy to require stronger community benefits such as affordable housing in exchange for any increased entitlements beyond what is allowed by a site’s existing base zoning (increased height, reduced setbacks, etc.).
• Ensure anti-displacement policies are a key part of growth planning to avoid displacement of low-income renters as properties are redeveloped.
• Make publicly subsidized units permanently affordable.
• Adjust MFIs for density bonus programs or other city-subsidized affordable housing to reflect the median income where the project will be built.