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How can legislation improve access to affordable housing?

Danielle Skidmore

City Council, District 9

First and foremost, we must update our outdated and insufficient land development code. It’s important to understand that our current land development code has already been amended dozens of times, attempting to address the inefficiencies of the 1984 “Zoning Ordinance” with the needs of a city which has changed greatly over the years. I see this code rewrite as akin to cleaning out your garage… It starts out organized, but as we grow and time passes, it becomes a mess. You have to sort through everything, and the sorting priorities can change as a family grows. The point is that finally organizing your garage can be laborious and cause headaches, but ultimately is a good thing—as is finally solving Austin’s housing accessibility and affordability crisis.

More neighborhood housing compatible with our existing structures is not only possible, but is critical to realizing our Imagine Austin vision. I support the affordable housing bond proposal and more workforce housing in District 9, which will necessarily include more multifamily housing: condominiums, townhouses, apartments, etc. Land values near the core of Austin are so expensive that we can’t just build a few “affordable” single family houses and call the job done.

Following are three suggestions to help address the housing shortage, especially in the 30% MFI and below: We must look at publicly owned land in D9 that is underutilized; we can create and strengthen public-private partnerships with local foundations like Affordable Central Texas, Habitat for Humanity, Foundation Communities, etc.; and we must allow more deeply affordable types of housing, such as microunits. Providing this housing near public transportation is essential.

The strategic housing blueprint identifies a vast range of strategies to expand affordable housing in Austin. My top criteria to for projects:

1) Promoting Equity – Discrete affordable housing goals are absolutely necessary for each district and neighborhood. While the tools to provide housing will vary for each location, the overarching goal must be to reduce the enormous disparities of housing options in our neighborhood.

2) Reducing Displacements – Preserving existing affordable neighborhoods is critical for community cohesion. Even if individual units are lost during redevelopment projects, projects which include on-site or near-site community benefit of affordable housing must be provided.

3) Maximizing Density – Projects which build the most number of affordable units per acre will be more cost effective to construct and maintain on a per unit basis than a less intense development pattern. Given our limited resources to provide affordable housing, it should be extended to as many families as possible.

4) Expanding Public Transportation Access – Projects should be located along or near our current Capital Metro high frequency transit routes and the Project Connect corridors.