Can We Create Affordable Housing In Austin?

CodeNEXT Maps
CodeNEXT Maps

There are few things as confusing in Austin right now as CodeNEXT. At times, it can seem like there are hundreds of opposing viewpoints, all being tossed around online and in public meetings at a lightening fast pace. And that can make it hard for the average person to keep up!

That’s why today, we’ve decided to slow things down a bit by highlighting two podcasts and one video that give some of our community’s leaders and City Council members the opportunity to explain what they think about CodeNEXT and to offer a path forward. In particular, we’re going to focus on affordable housing, and whether or not a new land development code can help to solve Austin’s worsening affordability crisis.

(As a reminder… CodeNEXT is the city’s effort to rewrite its land development code, which is basically a rule book for the city, explaining what can be built where. CodeNEXT will determine how Austin looks 10, 15, and even 50 years from now. And it will affect everything from affordability, to transportation, to the environment. )

1. Shades of Green Podcast

Last week, our radio partner Shades of Green, dedicated its entire show to affordable housing and CodeNEXT.

Guests included:


In case you’re not familiar, the City of Austin has two citizen-led land use commissions – the Planning Commission and the Zoning and Platting Commission. Both had the chance to review CodeNEXT and then make recommendations to City Council.

During this process, the Planning Commission made a series of recommendations/amendments that they believe should be added to CodeNEXT. The Zoning and Platting Commission on the other hand, recommended that Council “immediately terminate” CodeNEXT.

During the Shades of Green podcast, both Kenny and Duncan discuss their commission’s official recommendations and what they believe the future holds for CodeNEXT.

As a longtime community activist, Almanza discusses her fears and apprehensions about CodeNEXT and its potential effect on the gentrification and displacement of East Austin residents. During the podcast, she also lays out the People’s Plan, which she cowrote along with Jane Rivera and Fred McGhee.

The plan includes six main directives:

  • Establish interim land restrictions in East Austin to limit the degradation of the  natural and cultural environment
  • Establish a Low-Income Housing Trust Fund that would make public investments exclusively in low-income housing
  • Use city-owned public land to create 2,000 low-income housing units on eight city properties
  • Implement an East Austin Neighborhood Conservation Program with Conservation and Historic Preservation Districts to restrict land use
  • Enact Right to Return and Right to Stay programs to help seniors and low-income residents stay in and return to their communities
  • Enact a local Environmental Quality Review Program to ensure environmental justice

You can read through the entire plan here.

Podcast Interview With Council Member Greg Casar

As the conversation around CodeNEXT has continued to take up more and more of everyone’s time, there have been some concerns that not enough attention is being paid to other opportunities (outside of a land development code) to address our city’s biggest issues. With the Housing Justice Agenda, Council members Greg Casar, Delia Garza, and Sabino “Pio” Renteria are seeking to address that.

Unveiled to the public in April, the Housing Justice Agenda is a set of proposals that the three City Council members believe can start to fix Austin’s housing affordability crisis right away. Of the seven items on the list, six don’t even have to do with CodeNEXT and include things like drumming up support for a large affordable housing bond in November.

AEN Editor-In-Chief Amy Stansbury sat down with Council Member Casar this week to discuss the Housing Justice Agenda. You can listen to their entire conversation below.

 

A PATH Forward For A Liveable Austin Press Conference

On Tuesday, Council members Leslie Pool, Alison Alter, Kathie Tovo, and Ora Houston put forth their own plan for making CodeNEXT a success, pushing back against allegations that their concern for neighborhood preservation means that they don’t embrace newcomers to this city.

Together, the Council members said that they are ready to get to work “on creating a code that balances growth and change, alongside the needs and well being of our longtime residents,” as Council Member Tovo put it.

Council Member Houston continued on to say that CodeNEXT (as it currently stands) does not do enough to address the historic inequities perpetuated by previous land development codes and city policies.

“We would support a code that has the power to be a more context-sensitive document that insures growth is focused on the Imagine Austin corridors, the 2016 Mobility Bond Corridors, and regional and town centers,” Houston said.

During the press conference, Council Member Pool also addressed an issue that she said has been plaguing the CodeNEXT process. “…People don’t feel heard,” she said. “Well, we hear you. We hear you. And we’re rolling up our sleeves and are ready to work with all of our colleagues on City Council to bring forward a community-centric vision for Austin’s future.”

Council Member Alter closed out the press conference by arguing that simply building more housing won’t necessarily fix all of Austin’s problems.  “And zoning, by the way, does not equal housing supply and density does not equal affordability,” Alter said, to great applause from the group of community activists who were standing behind her at the press conference.

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