Affordable Housing

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If you live or work in the City of Austin, have you asked yourself why you chose to work or live where you do? Well, the City of Austin wants to know the answers to those questions to help plan for the future.

The city is conducting a “housing choice survey.” But with the current shortage of housing, do Austinites have any real choice in where they live?

Word on the street is that Austinites have very few housing choices. At least, that’s what rapper “Blind Man” says as he finds his way with his cane to a bench on East 11th Street.

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This story was co-reported with Reporting Texas, a project of UT Austin's School of Journalism.

Once again, Austin has landed at the top of another list. But this one doesn’t put the city in the best light.

In Austin, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,074 per month – the highest in Texas. That amount is $202 more than the average fair market rent for the state.

The figure comes from the National Low Income Housing Coalition's annual “Out of Reach” report, which details how much it costs to live in different metropolitan areas around the United States.

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The City of Austin could remove off-street parking space requirements for developers who build some apartments smaller than 500 square feet – dwellings known as "micro-units." Advocates say it could encourage development of the micro-units along public transit corridors.

"We're talking about 300- or 400-square-foot apartments. Is there a market for that? In some cities, it looks like there has been," Council Member Bill Spelman said Tuesday during a council work session. "This is another way of simply reducing the cost. The whole thing is really about affordable housing." 

City code requires most residential developments to have at least one off-street parking space per unit. Council removed most of those requirements for downtown businesses last year. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

The Austin City Council had a long day at the dais yesterday, with a meeting that sputtered along for the better part of 15 hours.

"Stealth dorms," fee waivers, economic incentives, an officer-involved shooting, the MoPac sound wall and  even a proclamation for KUT's own Cactus Cafe. 

With that in mind, here's a rundown of the council action, and inaction, from yesterday.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

The city of Austin limits the number of unrelated adults who can live in a single-family home. Right now, that limit is six.

But there’s a push before the Austin City Council to lower that number to four.  The Austin City Council meets today to decide whether to impose new rules that would lower occupancy limits – and do away with what some call “stealth dorms.”

Daniel Reese for KUT News

A fight pitting affordable housing against neighborhood quality is headed to the Austin City Council.

Austin’s Planning Commission is recommending a reduction in the number of unrelated adults allowed to live together in single-family homes: the maximum would fall from six down to four.

Last night’s action was in response to complaints that neighborhoods were suffering from what opponents call “stealth dorms.”

Seattle Department of Planning & Development

Micro-units – apartments of 500 square feet or less – might be Austin's next big building trend.

As the city's population continues to climb, troubles have mounted with providing affordable housing. To address the issue, the Austin City Council is asking the city manager to study the feasibility of micro-unit projects.

"Micro-units will allow people to live closer to downtown at a more affordable cost," says council member Bill Spelman.

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Election day returns show Austin’s $65 million affordable housing bond passing by a wide margin, with nearly 61 percent of voters approving the measure.

It’s the second time in a year affordable housing has been on the ballot in Austin. Last year, a similar bond proposition was narrowly defeated.

KeepCalmVoteOn.org

Updated Friday, November 1 at 7:37am: Early voting ends today for the Nov. 5 election.

There are 19 early voting locations in Travis County and several mobile locations.

What's On the Ballot:

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This November, Austinites are being asked to approve a $65 million affordable housing bond. The money would go toward building and renovating affordable housing projects; purchasing land to build affordable housing on; and funding of ongoing affordable housing initiatives. You can see a sample ballot here.

But it was just one year ago that voters rejected a similar bond proposition.

With that recent loss, some have asked whether issuing tax-supported municipal bonds is the best way to fund affordability in Austin.

Carrie Powell for KUT News

A new master plan for the Colony Park neighborhood will use a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in an effort to revitalize the area. The project resembles the planning of Mueller in scope and ambition, but some residents are concerned the project might eventually displace them.

At a Saturday community engagement meeting, residents in the Colony Park area said they were concerned the city might move on to implementation of the plan without their approval.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Austin’s the fastest-growing large city in the country.

All of the city’s socio-economic groups are growing – from the very affluent to people with lower incomes. It’s those low-income Austinites who struggle to find housing as prices climb higher.

Starting next week, Austin voters will decide whether to approve $65 million in bonds to pay for affordable housing initiatives. But regardless of the election results, the need is not likely to go away soon.

Mark Gwin for KUT News

A diverse group of volunteers braved the heat Thursday to upgrade the residence of 107-year-old World War II veteran Richard Overton – the country’s oldest living World War II veteran.

The East Austin house has been Overton's home since he built it in 1945, when he returned from war. And though he’s done some upgrades over the years, it was beginning to have some serious issues: broken windows, a failing refrigerator and more.

But then a team of several dozen volunteers came to fix it all.

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A year after voters narrowly rejected the proposal, the Austin City Council is once again asking voters to approve tens of millions of dollars for affordable housing.

The City of Austin will host the first of four community information sessions today about this November’s $65 million affordable housing bond.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Oak Hollow is a community of 429 apartments in northwest Austin. It’s operated as affordable housing by a group called American Opportunity for Housing.

Built in 1972, keeping up a property like Oak Hollow can be expensive. The main source of income for American Opportunity for Housing is rent. And as a nonprofit, the community has a 100 percent tax exemption. The City of Austin estimates, over the last decade, that it has foregone upwards of $1 million in taxes from Oak Hollow.

But it’s a property with a reputation among renters’ advocates.

Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Austin voters will likely be asked to approve bond dollars for affordable housing, after a similar proposition was voted down in last November.

On Monday, city council members Sheryl Cole, Bill Spelman and Chris Riley, along with housing advocates from Keep Austin Affordable, announced their support for a $65 million bond program on the November 2013 ballot. They said the spending could finance more affordable housing – without raising the tax rate.

Luke Quinton, KUT News

Is Austin's "brand" being diluted? 

The Austin Chamber of Commerce had a round-table discussion today that asked exactly that. The consensus was upbeat, but Jack McDonald, CEO of Silverback Enterprise Group, said a lack of affordable housing will be a more serious concern this decade ahead.

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Last week KUT News spent some time looking at affordable housing in Austin in "Under One Roof: Affordable Housing 101." We got into the nuts and bolts of how nonprofit developers build affordable housing for low-income Austinites and why it’s in such short supply.

We heard from quite a few people about this series and about some of the other issues around affordable housing as well.

Callie Hernandez for KUT News

For many, Election Night 2012 was a great night.

At the Driskill Hotel, Travis County Democrats toasted President Obama’s victory. But Walter Moreau with Foundation Communities, one of Austin’s largest affordable-housing providers, wasn’t celebrating.

“All the other bonds passed, so it’s hard to say why …” Moreau began.

Filipa Rodrigues, KUT News

Real estate finance under any circumstances is complicated. When it comes to affordable housing, it’s even more so.

So to make this as simple as we can, we’re going to use Austin’s M Station as an example. The 150-unit apartment complex is right next to the Red Line tracks on MLK Boulevard.

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