The price of living in a growing city: planning for affordable housing in Georgetown

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As Georgetown’s population growth continues, so does the discussion on adding residential options accordingly.

Housing is one element of the 2030 plan currently being developed by the city.

After reviewing a technical study on existing units, land-use goals and public input on the topic, City Council recommended a housing-specific goal become the foundation for the planning process.

In January, council, along with the planning and zoning commission, selected this goal: “Ensure access to diverse housing options and preserve existing neighborhoods for residents of all ages, backgrounds and income levels.”

Affordability, diversity and preservation are the themes the city is focusing on as a result.

With the housing goal identified, staff can begin drafting policy options, Planning Director Sofia Nelson said.

“Then it comes down to an implementation plan with more hard action items such as timeframes, costs, and who will be responsible for steps to implement each policy,” she said.

A 16-person steering committee meets monthly on the topic. The group consists of representatives from a variety of boards, commissions and other positions and utilizes its diverse perspectives to offer direction to city staff, Housing Coordinator Susan Watkins said. Staff are also looking into what other Texas cities have done to address similar issues and what tools are available from the state, Watkins added.

Council also directed staff to study low-income, workforce and senior housing specifically. Though quantitative data is part of the research, qualitative information in equally vital, according to Nelson, who said looking at affordable housing from a variety of dimensions is a key part of the conversation that is sometimes overlooked.

“You can say you need a specific number of housing units to meet a certain demand,” she said. “But what we’re really looking at is how to understand the fuller picture. There are a lot of aspects within low-income and workforce housing that you miss if you distill it down to numbers only.”

Updating the city code to allow for tiny homes and other small rental options on existing residential properties is something the city could do right now to create more affordable housing, resident and social activist Jaquita Wilson said.

“We are increasing how many luxury apartments are in the community and not balancing that out with housing to account for all the new services coming in,” she said. “By allowing tiny homes on their land, residents could be a part of a rental income that would help them pay for their own homes and help someone else out.”

As Georgetown grows, so do the number of service industry jobs, but those people cannot afford to live in the city, Wilson said. Many are driving in daily from Pflugerville, Round Rock, Killeen and Harker Heights, adding to traffic congestion.

“I really feel like there are a lot of misconceptions around tiny homes and affordable housing in totality,” Wilson said. “People assume it means ‘riff-raff’ and problem situations, and that’s not the case.”

Having affordable housing supports the people who support the community, Wilson said. It provides a place for police officers, nurses and others servicing area needs.

“‘Support-services housing’ might be a better word to use than ‘affordable housing,” she added. “It takes so much to keep a city going … our garbage men, parks and recreation. … I don’t think people break down what it takes day to day to keep a city safe.”

Wilson said Georgetown is a particularly safe city, something that cannot be accomplished without service workers.

“The least we can do is make sure they have a place to live and feel safe and welcome,” she said.

Pam Mitchell, the director of the Georgetown Neighborhood Alliance, said the group has been keeping up with the city’s 2030 planning process but plans to do some research of its own. She said the GNA supports a balanced community–all levels of wage earners and working adults, families, seniors, students, and young professionals.

“Georgetown lacks affordable housing options and needs a comprehensive program to address the issue,” Mitchell said.

While the GNA has yet to dedicate the time needed to fully understand the situation and provide insight and guidance, when they do begin the focus will be on considering need, location, access and convenience, economics of land use, feasibility of higher-density housing and adherence to development guidelines, Mitchell said.

“GNA has not observed that Georgetown leadership, and residents fully understand the importance of a socially and economically diverse community,” she said. “In addition, affordable housing can’t be addressed without consideration for transportation and job opportunities.”

Resident Tom Crawford said Georgetown has more affordable housing per capita than most cities its size and no more is needed. Resident Marc Levin agreed, citing the recently added Kaia Pointe and Live Oaks Apartments on Williams Drive.

“I would say that is a lot for a community this small,” he said.

The city is planning to host public meetings on the topic of affordable housing later this summer or early fall.

“But if a resident wants to be involved, I’d encourage them to attend a steering committee meeting now,” Nelson said. “We also go out into the community and update a number of groups—boards, commissions, nonprofits—every time we work though a new element of the [2030] plan. If you have a group, contact the planning department. We regularly go share with people where they’re at rather than ask them to come to us.”

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Sally Grace Holtgrieve
Sally Grace Holtgrieve solidified her passion for news during her time as Editor-in-Chief of Christopher Newport University's student newspaper, The Captain's Log. She started her professional career at The Virginia Gazette and moved to Texas in 2015 to cover government and politics at The Temple Daily Telegram. She started working at Community Impact Newspaper in February 2018 as the Lake Travis-Westlake reporter and moved into the role of Georgetown editor in June 2019.
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