Austin City Council Members Consider Ways To Refine Strategic Housing Plan

Apr 12, 2017

The release of Austin’s first-ever strategic housing plan has both faced scrutiny and garnered support at public meetings in recent weeks. The plan aims to address the city’s growing affordability crisis by setting goals for new housing production. Austin City Council members are set to vote Thursday on whether to adopt the plan, and they’re proposing some changes to make the implementation process smoother.

Council members have been hearing public testimony on the plan for the past two weeks, but some say they need more time. At Tuesday’s work session, Council Member Ora Houston asked for the vote to be postponed to allow for more public engagement and input. She also wants the city’s Zoning and Platting Commission to hold a hearing on the plan.

“I’m sure you all know that the commission is responsible for 68.5 percent of Austin’s geographical area," Houston said. "And they would like to see the plan and offer some recommendations before it’s finalized."

Houston, who represents part of East Austin, also raised questions about some geographic strategies outlined in the plan. It prioritizes placing affordable housing near frequent transit routes and Imagine Austin corridors. Houston noted that much of that infrastructure is concentrated in the East, while it remains scarce in wealthier, West Austin districts, and she worries these proposed strategies may further gentrify her district.

But Council Member Delia Garza, who represents parts of Southeast Austin, disagreed. She said policies outlined in the housing plan could bring much-needed resources to the area.

“We don’t have jobs east of 35,” Garza said. “We don’t have town centers. We don’t have grocery stores. We don’t have amenities that we’ve all been advocating for. And the purpose of this is to say, how do we get that stuff east of 35? We don’t have it west because West Austin already has grocery stores. They have jobs.”

Council Member Ann Kitchen later offered an amendment to refine some of the plan's goals. She said not every corridor or council district has equal-capacity affordable housing. Her amendment calls for considering the amount of affordable housing that already exists in each district and setting goals for added units accordingly. Kitchen also wants the city manager to draft specific steps for implementation, identify priorities and establish a timeline for reporting progress to City Council.

“This action plan would be more specific in terms of resource needs for the particular plan implementation, and that might be funding or other kinds of necessary resources,” Kitchen said.

While city staff say adoption of the housing plan isn’t necessarily an urgent matter, taking action now would align well with next week’s release of the CodeNEXT map.