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What policies will you advocate to accommodate and welcome the full abundance and diversity of people who aspire to live in Austin’s neighborhoods?

Rich DePalma

City Council, District 8

Austin doubles in size between every twenty and thirty years. As we grow, we must move toward our housing challenges and not turn away in hopes that families will not grow, students will not stay, new residents will not come, and adults will not age. The Strategic Housing Blueprint calculates the need for an additional 135,197 units of both income-restricted affordable housing and market-rate housing to be built between 2015-2020 to address affordability. The report breaks it down by Median Family Income goals. We are not meeting these goals and as a result, housing costs continue to increase as supply continues to be limited. My own research shows that we need vacancy rates around 10% for each type of housing stock in order to increase affordability. I support adding the housing we need to get to that vacancy rate.

The simple fact is that we have pushed too many out of Austin to live, force them back to the city to work, and then we complain about both sprawl and traffic congestion. This is a problem we must fix and it can only be done by a diverse mix of housing types throughout the city that are developed under a clear land development code, executed by a functioning development services department, using an array of traditional and creative financing options, and built by an available skilled workforce. This housing includes small apartment complexes, small single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes, row houses, and co-ops.

I will advocate for a land development code and maps that is consistent with the Imagine Austin Plan and smart growth principles.

Here are some other policies I will advocate for:

Land Development Code – Our code should be agile, sustainable, and evolve to meet the needs of the community at present and for the future. It must provide for diversity in housing stock. This is a priority and important for SW Austin where SF-1 zoning reigns supreme. We need the diversity of housing stock to meet the needs of our single parents, seniors, and young adults.

Permitting – no surprise to anyone that our permitting process is expensive, cumbersome and inefficient. Upgrades to the AMANDA permitting system and temporary employees will only go so far but the process needs to be streamlined to reduce costs. In addition to fixing the system, as of September 7, 2019, the Development Services Department had 59 open positions including managerial positions, we must get those positions filled and the people trained.

Public Land – the city owns properties where housing is needed but it had no known strategic plan on how to best leverage those properties to maximize affordable housing at different MFI goals. An RFI for all appropriate properties should be released to identify potential opportunities and considerations. After the RFI process, an RFP should be released taking all the information in mind. When possible, the city should coordinate with other public entities to identify an opportunities for a larger vision or to help leverage the development for other municipal opportunities such as activating transit solutions.

Leverage Housing for Holistic Solutions -I will advocate for transit-oriented development, vertical mixed-use developments, and senior focused developments that will increase density along the corridors and near cultural and job centers.

Affordable Housing – District 8 has the lowest amount of affordable housing in the city, and I would like to see this change to benefit our neighbors on fixed incomes or facing life changes such as divorce or death of a spouse. I also believe that we must update our land development code to solve the challenges of our present day and future, versus adhering to a code drafted when our population and sprawl were not facing the growth we see now.

Additionally, I support the following other strategies to address our housing shortages:

1. Improve the compatibility set-back requirements
2. Modify minimum on-property parking requirements/street parking requirements
3. Create additional housing and environmental opportunities through the reduction of minimum lot sizes
4. Increase the rental subsidies and broaden the type of housing where it can be used.
5. Continue to pursue General Obligation Bonds approved by the voter for the development of affordable housing, low-income tax.
6. Promote the use of Community Development Financial Institutions for subsidized financing rates and expedited funding.
7. Expand public private partnerships.
8. Increase land banking in Austin but through a data driven model of acquisition and sailing. Using currently available (nonprogrammed) public land for residential development and strategically purchasing future land along transit corridors and areas where it is ideal to increase workforce/commuter and senior housing density.
9. Update our land development/zoning code that provides clarity on land use regulations so there is certainty for developers on what is required.
10. Implement the density bonus program as prescribed in the Austin Strategic Housing Blueprint.
11. Increase the availability of Accessory Dwelling Units.