Pflugerville resident Matt McDonough recently purchased a house on the east side of the city.

McDonough said he needed to stay in the Pflugerville ISD boundaries for his daughter, so his home search was limited to that area.

He ended up locking in a price for a new home build last November, and after an extensive search he said he felt extremely fortunate to buy a home in his price range—a little over $260,000.

He said he now believes that had he waited any longer, he probably would not have been able to afford the home.

“I just looked in my neighborhood for the exact same [model] house, and they are asking for $107,000 more than the price I locked last November,” he said in mid-August.

As housing needs grow, area officials say attainable housing costs remain a key priority.

In Hutto, Round Rock and Pflugerville, members of city staff said they are focused on providing a diverse array of home options for people of varying socioeconomic means.

Figures from each city show both the cost of owning and renting homes to be rising quickly, adding to difficulties for the growing number of people who are forced to search for housing outside of Austin proper and in surrounding communities.

However, even cities several miles away from Austin are experiencing rapid increases in housing costs, and residents, officials, and professionals agree that it is imperative to focus on maintaining housing strategies that are as economically inclusive as possible.

McDonough said his experience illustrates the need and urgency for more diversity in area housing costs, especially since the type of house he was able to afford less than a year ago is now unattainable to him at a cost of more than $370,000.

“I don’t know what I would have done then,” he said. “It’s so insane to think of ... I feel unbelievably lucky that I got my house.”

Creating options for affordability

Hutto’s comprehensive land use plan, which should be complete later this year, according to Stacy Schmitt, assistant to the city manager, is one aspect of a multifaceted grouping of studies city staff are working on that in part focus on housing costs.

Schmitt said Hutto’s most prominent demographic at present are younger families with kids and two incomes.

“That is our majority. That is our sweet spot.” she said. “How do we grow to be able to provide services and homes that meet those needs, while we also have to have balanced needs of people who do want affordable housing apartments? And ... we do still have a senior population.”

As of July, the average listing price for a single family home in Hutto was $374,959, according to data from Multiple Listing Service, a primary data gathering tool for real estate brokers and other industry professionals.

Figures from Rentometer, a data aggregator, show 2021 average monthly rental costs in Hutto to be $1,389 so far.

For residents who are not able to pay the city’s average rental or mortgage price, there are other housing options.

Hutto has a federally subsidized complex called The Trails at Carmel Creek and another on the way called Carver Ridge. To qualify for those units, residents must have an income below the area median income of the greater Austin metro area, which is $98,900.

Sandy Watson is the developer for Carver Ridge, which is still in the permitting process but expected to be ready for residents some time in 2022.

Watson said when complete, the 60-unit complex will mainly cater to those making between 50% and 60% of the area’s AMI.

As one example, a single person making 50% of the AMI, or $34,650 per year, would qualify for a unit at Carver Ridge, according to data from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

“The type of people we are trying to attract are your school teachers, your city workers, your retail [employees], your hospitality industry workers,” Watson said. “A lot of people in the community still make less than [the area median income.]”

However, Schmitt said Hutto officials are also looking into creating more single family home options for buyers who do not qualify for federally subsidized housing but also cannot afford homes at or above the current average price.

Schmitt listed Aspen Heights as an example of a new single family home development city officials are looking at approving soon.

“We’re looking at all of those options, because we need to have similar product as to what our demographic needs.” she said.

In Pflugerville, Planning and Development Services Director Emily Barron said that historically, the city has been seen as an affordable option for people who want to live in the Austin area but cannot afford Austin housing prices.

Like in Hutto, Barron said Pflugerville’s comprehensive plan is a main tool staff and officials use to ensure there are as many housing options as possible for residents.

“In our 2010 comprehensive plan ... one of the key takeaways was to provide for a diversity of housing,” she said. “For a long time, we only had 9,000 square foot [single family home] lots. Over the last, I would say probably 15 years, we have really grown the style of housing and the variety of housing choice [for residents] in Pflugerville.”

More options, from apartment units in big complexes to large single family homes are continuing to be developed to this day, Barron said.

A wider diversity of options can be vital for residents with limited budgets who don’t want to be cost burdened, especially given the fact that MLS data from July state the average listing cost of a single family home in Pflugerville was $412,046, and the average rent so far in 2021 is $1,674, according to rentometer.

A growing demand for attainable housing

Brad Wiseman, the planning and development services director for Round Rock, said as it pertains to housing priorities, it remains crucial to continue to pursue a diversity of options.

“When you get different types of housing, it has a few benefits,” Wiseman said. “One is that not everyone wants to live in a garden apartment or a single family subdivision.”

With regard to basic economics, having more diverse housing options allows developers to offer homes at various price points, including for those who can’t afford homes at or above the most recent average rent and mortgage prices.

As of Jule, MLS data show the average listing valuation of a single family home in Round Rock stood at $486,431, and figures from Rentometer show the average cost of rent in the city for 2021 was $1,705.

Beyond a growing need for subsidized housing, Wiseman said it remains critical for Round Rock to focus on zoning and other strategies to keep costs down for those who don’t qualify for those programs.

Where applicable within their allowable land use, Wiseman said tactics such as adjusting housing density and height limits are crucial to providing housing options for the majority of the city’s residents.

While the city of Round Rock has not compiled data examining what percentage of its population may be cost burdened with regard to housing costs, he said on top of creating more options for the city’s residents in general, officials have approved a few income-restricted workforce housing projects within the last several years that are reserved for residents who make 60% of the AMI.

“Two of them have been built and constructed, and there’s folks living in those units now,” Wiseman said. “There is an additional one that is in the early stages of the development process, so that is another aspect of how we provided some workforce housing options in the community.”

Ebby Green, executive director for the Round Rock Housing Authority, said her organization administers affordable housing in the city through two programs.

One is through public housing subsidized federally through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and owned by the RRHA,

The RRHA owns 100 of those units, 12 of which are individual homes and the rest are within housing complexes, Green said.

The other program is called a housing choice voucher, through which the RRHA helps subsidize qualifying residents.

Through both programs, Green said qualifying families pay 30% of their monthly adjusted income on housing.

From her perspective, Green said the need for attainable housing in Round Rock is substantial.

“We currently have a waiting list with over 100 people on it,” she said. “Usually the list is much longer, and people wait anywhere from two and three years to get assistance under the voucher program.”

Because residents have to vacate a home before one opens up under the HUD program, Green said the wait for those residents is typically anywhere from 15 to 18 months, and as of August, there were about 160 families on the program’s wait list.

“The need [for more affordable housing] has grown because of rising rents, and also because of COVID[-19], where people have lost their jobs.” Green said. “We’re getting more phone calls on a daily basis.”