Despite years of surging residential construction across Austin, the addition of new affordable spaces to live continues to lag far behind the city's housing goals for residents of all income levels.

The big picture

The latest analysis of Austin's deficient affordable housing production came in a Dec. 20 report on the city's Strategic Housing Blueprint, approved by City Council in 2017 to monitor housing gains over 10 years. The update covers residential development from 2018 through 2022, the first five years under the blueprint.

Income-based affordable housing in Austin is generally tied to the area's median family income, or MFI, which reached $122,300 for a four-person household in 2023. Families earning 80% MFI and below are defined as low-income and can qualify for affordable housing options.

The affordable housing shortfall continues as Austin's MFI is jumping by thousands of dollars each year, which can price lower-income residents out of previously affordable spaces as higher-income earners move in.

The breakdown

Halfway through the city housing plan, just 10,444 affordable units out of a goal of 60,000—17.41%—are now on the ground, well off track from the blueprint benchmark. Progress was worst at the lowest end of the income scale with just 363 units completed out of a 20,000-unit goal for housing at less than 30% MFI.

More headway was made on spaces for moderate- and high-income residents, with 32,145 of a targeted 75,000 units—42.86%—built through 2022.

The middle-income range of 81%-120% MFI represents the only housing bracket analyzed that exceeded the city's goals through five years.
The results at the blueprint's halfway mark are similar to those presented in past years' updates, which also showed a stark divide in progress between lower- and higher-income housing goals.

Also in line with years past, West Austin is seeing the least movement on affordable housing by a wide margin compared to the rest of the city.

West side City Council districts 6, 8 and 10 are each about 5% or less toward their 10-year goals. In 2022 alone, zero affordable units were built in districts 8 and 10, while 300 were added in District 6.

Those results line up with the latest report's finding that just 16% of new affordable housing added since 2017 was in "high opportunity areas"—locations identified as having a better quality of life based on several factors, and that are concentrated around West Austin.

The rest of the city's districts are each at least 20% toward their decade goals, with north central Austin's District 4 leading all others and on track to meet its 2028 target. Just in 2022, District 4 exceeded its annual goal and the remainder of Central and East Austin districts met 40% or more of their one-year goals.
Zooming in

The housing blueprint statistics account for all types of residential construction across Austin with private development accounting for a large share. Looking only at publicly supported development, such as housing backed by local bond dollars or encouraged through other programs, the city is "well past achieving" its 5,899-unit goal for that segment of the market, according to former Housing Director Rosie Truelove.

However, Austin still faces a significant shortfall in the deeply affordable permanent supportive housing units generally reserved for people exiting homelessness. A three-year community goal to add 1,000 supportive housing units is unlikely to be met, and the blueprint scorecard reported just 184 additions—although hundreds more are now in development.

The December report also shows the city is ahead of schedule on its plans to preserve existing housing affordable to lower-income earners. More than 5,700 such units have been maintained out of a 10,000 unit goal.

Austin has also seen success in bringing housing to community centers labeled as primed for growth in the city's comprehensive plan, with nearly 90% of new units added in or near such areas.

The outlook

The blueprint standards established in 2017 were based on previous studies and projections for the Austin-area housing market, and Truelove noted conditions are significantly different than in the mid-2010s.

Austin's rapid rise in home prices and rents as well as high local construction costs are among the factors that have changed the outlook for housing development and affordability.

The housing blueprint was also adopted at a time when city leaders anticipated widespread changes to the rules governing development in Austin. After several failed efforts to update the land development code and given other market changes, Truelove said the Housing Department "strongly suggests" revising the blueprint to reflect realistic goals for Austin today while other land-use changes move forward.

City staff are now looking ahead to a possible $10 million federal grant to support that work. If Austin doesn't receive those funds, she said alternate options to tackle a blueprint update are being considered.

"The Housing Department is proud of the achievements that have been made in securing income-restricted housing units across Austin and looks forward to continuing to contribute to that aspect of the affordability puzzle," Truelove said.