Austin needs to build 60,000 income-restricted housing units by 2027 to keep the housing market from largely excluding low-income residents, and where those units end up is central to the community’s goals in equity and opportunity.
City Council will make that call—a decision scheduled for June later this year, according to city officials. If the elected leaders approve anything that resembles the distribution drafted by staff and presented to Council’s housing committee on Feb. 12, many of the affordable units will be heading to West and Northwest Austin, two of the city’s wealthiest areas.
With $250 million of public money to put toward affordable housing efforts and several programs aimed at protecting tenants and slowing displacement in the works, city leaders have identified the next two years as crucial in meeting the city’s housing affordability goals.
“This year is going to be the most aggressive and comprehensive effort on affordable housing this city has ever seen,” District 4 Greg Casar said during the Feb. 12 meeting.
The recommendation defines affordable housing as that which is affordable to residents who make less than 80 percent of the median family income—for a family of four that would come out to $68,800, according to Travis County numbers.
The proposed distribution of affordable housing units, which housing staff and City Council members agreed would be a hot item as the city moves forward on housing goals, represents a delicate balance of high opportunity and high value, geographic equity and even mobility goals.
District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said moving more affordable housing into rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods would result in fewer units for the money spent, while spending the same money in less desirable areas of town would produce more units.
District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo drew agreement from council colleagues when she said the formula used to produce the draft distribution numbers needed to be more closely examined.
Housing staff short of resources
The work incurred by the city’s housing department has been on a steep incline over the past several years, however, the department has 15 fewer full-time employees than it had 15 years ago, Department Director Rosie Truelove said.
With the $250 million for affordable housing approved by voters last fall, Truelove said the department’s budget has nearly quadrupled. She said the gap in capacity at the department is a major concern, comments which were echoed by District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria. Truelove said the need for resources is especially dire with the work that lies immediately ahead, such as expanding tenant protection programs, identifying opportunities for affordable housing development throughout the city and sharpening the city’s database and services related to affordable housing.
Truelove asked City Council to consider providing a consistent general fund budget revenue stream to the city’s housing trust fund, which earns its money from property taxes charged to formerly city-owned lots. Truelove said a steady stream would make planning and program funding easier.