Council to Consider Tracking Demolition of Affordable Housing

Jan 26, 2017

Next week, the city of Austin is set to release the first draft of CodeNEXT, a much-awaited overhaul of the land development code. These rules govern everything from parking to how neighborhoods look. But as the change rolls in, some city leaders worry Austin’s affordable housing may be at risk.

A key component of CodeNEXT is making Austin more compact and connected. That means encouraging denser development along transit corridors and trying to reduce our reliance on cars. We have yet to learn how exactly the land code is going to change, but Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo wants to make sure it doesn’t incentivize the demolition of existing affordable housing.

On Tuesday, Tovo outlined a resolution to track the number of affordable homes the city is losing through demolitions. But newly-elected Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, who represents District 6, questioned whether some of those older homes are really affordable. Flannigan said if those structures aren’t demolished, they often require costly maintenance work before someone new can move in.

“If it’s now uninhabitable, is the current price of that really representing an affordable unit?” Flannigan asked.

Mayor Pro Tem Tovo said it’s unclear how city staff reports could “get to that level of precision” when accounting for the loss of affordable units, but said she’s open to exploring ways of tracking that data.

Tovo’s resolution cites a 2014 study by the advocacy group HousingWorks, which found that the vast majority of Austin’s affordable units, 62,000, are privately owned. Only 18,500 are publicly subsidized. Her resolution encourages retaining those privately held units, which don’t require upkeep or supervision by the city. But Tovo conceded that some of that housing is in poor condition. 

“Some of what is affordable, non-subsidized affordable housing in this city is also substandard housing, and I think that’s worth recognizing because of course we want people to live in safe, healthy housing and not pay low rents because they’re living in unsafe conditions,” she said.

District 4 Council Member Greg Casar plans to offer an amendment to the resolution at today’s meeting. Along with demolitions, he wants city staff to report on the number of affordable units that Austin is gaining.

“What’s the balance there, so that we aren’t just looking at one part of the affordable housing pipe but looking at both at once?” Casar asked. “So I want to know essentially the whole equation and not just part of it.”

Council members are set to take up the resolution at their meeting today. The first draft of CodeNEXT is set to be released Feb. 1.