3 takeaways from the Austin chamber’s new coalition on affordability

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The same week that Austin was named the best place to live in the U.S. a coalition of more than 100 organizations announced an action plan designed to make the city more affordable.

Chief among the issues community leaders say contribute to Austin’s lack of affordability is the need for more affordable housing throughout the city. Ann Howard—chair of One Voice Central Texas, a coalition of more than 100 executive directors from health and human services nonprofits—said an increasing lack of affordability creates other challenges.

“In a city like Austin, we also see a rise of families and children living in poverty and homelessness, especially in a community with low affordable housing,” she said.

The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and its coalition partners announced the action plan Thursday at Goodwill of Central Texas’s community center and discussed some of the key issues, such as the need for affordable housing, improving the permitting process and creating better access to health care.

Austin affordability

Kerbey Lane CEO Mason Ayer said many of his employees can no longer afford to live close to their jobs in Austin. (via Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)

1. Austin needs housing that is both affordable and abundant.

According to data from the Austin Board of Realtors, the median single-family home price in Austin rose 10.6 percent to $345,000 since September 2015. The National Association of Homebuilders reports for every $1,000 increase in the median home value, 1,285 Austin families can no longer afford the market.

Kerbey Lane CEO Mason Ayer said his employees continue to be priced out of the city and have to live farther from their jobs.

“As a local business operator we view the growth in Austin as a very positive thing for our community, for our population,” he said. “However, affordability isn’t just an issue facing Austin; it is the singular issue in Austin. We see that every day in the business community.”

2. Delays in the city’s permitting process burden businesses and residents.

Goodwill’s Chief Operating Officer Mark Hiemstra said the organization has lost more than $600,000 because of permitting delays.

“The permitting process has allowed our city to grow to this point, but it’s not supporting the current needs and has been holding us back as an organization,” he said. “We end up spending six to nine months filling out paperwork every time we need a permit for a building or simply to expand space we occupy.”

Although great strides have been made in the past year to improve the city’s permitting process, Geoffrey Tahuahua, vice president of public policy for the Homebuilders Association of Greater Austin, said more work is needed, particularly to improve communication and coordination among city departments.

“The moment that permit leaves [the Development Services Department]and goes to Austin Watershed, Austin Water or the tree department or fire it usually ends up in a much greater black hole,” he said.

3. Public-private partnerships are needed to improve access to health care and jobs.

Hiemstra said one example is that Goodwill worked with the city of Austin to add a bus stop outside its community center, which also has a day care for adult students taking classes to receive their high school diploma.

Howard said when families struggle with housing they also find it difficult to access health care services.

“We’re calling on the local community, on the City Council, to make sure that we continue to invest money needed in health and human services so that people living in poverty can have a chance to get out of poverty and for folks who need our help that we have avenues to offer that help,” she said.

For more information on the coalition visit www.austinchamber.org/affordability.

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Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.
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