At 'Affordable Housing Accelerator,' Groups Hope To Fast-Track Solutions

Jan 17, 2018

A group of local nonprofits, government agencies and private companies are taking part in what’s called the Affordable Housing Accelerator to address Austin’s housing affordability issues.

“For those who aren’t familiar with an accelerator, it’s a fancy word for a program which looks to accelerate small businesses, initiatives, startups, to do more faster,” said Ashley Phillips, managing director of Impact Hub Austin, a local co-working space that is organizing the effort.

Phillips said Impact Hub wanted to create a space for people to take risks. Nine groups have been working for months to develop new policies and financial models to address housing affordability. They'll be presenting their ideas next Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Impact Hub on North Lamar.

Phillips said participants have not done this work in a bubble: Teams have incorporated community feedback, the city’s Strategic Housing Blueprint and recommendations from the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism.

Ideas from the accelerator are already moving forward. One of the teams, the nonprofit Affordable Central Texas, is developing a fund that will support housing for people like teachers, musicians and health care workers.

“It will tie rents to wage growth so that it is able to stay at a rate of affordability that equals the wages of our workforce in Central Texas,” Phillips said.

Groups across Austin have strong and sometimes polarizing opinions about how to address affordable housing issues here.

A group of activists that was gathered in the Montopolis neighborhood of East Austin on Monday asked the mayor and City Council to take immediate action to address gentrification and displacement.

One of the organizers, Fred McGhee, read a list of the changes the group wants to see.

“Land restrictions in East Austin,” McGhee said, "use of city land to create over 2,000 low-income housing units.”

The group also took aim at CodeNEXT, saying the ongoing rewrite of Austin’s land development code would exacerbate affordability issues. This complex set of rules governs what can be built in the city and where it can go, and the process of drafting new regulations has highlighted tensions among residents.

Through the Affordable Housing Accelerator, Phillips said, groups that often hold competing values have been trying to get beyond those disagreements and find solutions.