The most recent iteration of Austin’s land use policy rewrite might give a sigh of relief to neighborhood activists, but it does nothing for affordable housing, affordability activists said Wednesday.
Representatives of Habitat for Humanity, Austin Housing Coalition and Austin Cooperative Business Association gathered at City Hall to lodge opposition to CodeNext’s third draft, which dialed back some of the housing density of earlier drafts after pressure from neighborhood associations. Two city commissions are expected to weigh in on the draft before the Austin City Council takes it up this spring.
“Draft 3 is a step in the wrong direction,” said Wayne Gerami, vice president of client services for Austin’s Habitat for Humanity branch. “CodeNext is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. If we don’t get this right, we’re not going to be able to build the housing we need.”
In short, the draft doesn’t allow the density needed to build enough housing to keep up with Austin’s growth, advocates said. It needs a map that allows for higher density along key corridors, especially where people don’t need to drive, and it needs to do a better job streamlining permitting rules to make building new residences faster, they said.
Otherwise, housing supply will continue to get slimmer and slimmer, and more people will be pushed out of the city, they argued.
“CodeNext won’t be the silver bullet that solves all our housing and transportation issues, but we do need it to be a bold step in the right direction,” Gerami said.
Neighborhood associations, on the other hand, have long fought up-zoning that they say could change the character of the neighborhoods for people who already live there.
They opposed provisions in previous drafts of CodeNext that allowed as many as three housing units to be built per lot in the city’s central neighborhoods and that allowed garage apartments and “granny flats,” also known as accessory dwelling units, in more suburban-like areas. Those were removed from the third draft.
The affordable housing advocates see some good things in the current CodeNext draft, said Nicole Joslin, director of the Austin Housing Coalition. It allows for more accessory dwelling units overall. It eliminates site plan requirements for some small developments. It reduces parking requirements.
But it is projected to create only about 6,000 units of income-restricted affordable housing, while the city needs 60,000 over the next decade, Joslin said.
The housing advocates pushed back against what they called priorities weighted too heavily toward neighborhood preservation.
“I appreciate that people want to keep their neighborhoods exactly the same, but the reality is 100 years ago a lot of this was farmland. Things change,” Gerami said. “Last time I heard, we don’t have a neighborhood character crisis in Austin, we have an affordable housing crisis.”
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