Editor's note: This story was updated to correct a public hearing date.

Austin city officials and staff are moving toward approving a slate of land-use code amendments this spring, including the second phase of the controversial "HOME" initiative aimed at creating more attainable housing.

In late March, the city sent out thousands of mailed notices to Austinites—a legally mandated step in the code amendment process that was also used for Phase 1 of HOME, or Housing Options for Middle-Income Empowerment. The mailers represent one piece of a public engagement plan that also includes an informational website and a series of public meetings to be held in April and May.

“Planning staff have been working around the clock on these draft code amendments ever since council gave us direction to do so last year,” Planning Director Lauren Middleton-Pratt said in a statement. “These changes will create more opportunities to make housing more attainable for Austin residents along our transit lines and throughout the city. We’re excited to hear from our community before we bring the final ordinances to council.” 

What's happening

This spring, City Council will consider adopting several wide-reaching changes to land development rules around Austin. They include:
  • HOME Phase 2: The second piece of the HOME initiative would cut the amount of land needed to build a single-family home down to 2,000 square feet—a reduction of nearly two-thirds from today's 5,750-square-foot minimum lot size in residential areas.
  • Citywide compatibility reductions: Compatibility standards limit the height and other characteristics of buildings near residential areas to ensure new developments conform with their surroundings. Proposed changes would streamline some of the rules, such as reducing compatibility's "trigger" distance from single-family homes to just 75 feet, a more than 80% reduction from the current 540-foot limit.
  • New ETOD overlays: New ETOD, or equitable transit-oriented development, regulations would encourage taller and denser residential projects and pedestrian-oriented business within a half-mile of the Project Connect light rail system.
  • Electric vehicle regulations: New limitations would ensure EV charging facilities aren't built in more residential areas or located too close together.
Staff framed the amendments as transit-friendly policies that could also further the stated housing goals of many council members. The changes would encourage planning and development around building more housing and taking advantage of opportunities tied to Project Connect.

“City Council is very interested in making sure that we develop as a city in a way that we are supporting development that supports our transit system, and vice versa. That as we move forward to make the investment in the Project Connect light rail and transit system over the years ahead, that we are prepared to have the land-use and development pattern of the city work well with than and make sure that that system can benefit as many people as it possibly can," Planning Department Division Manager Stevie Greathouse said March 28.

The city distributed nearly 672,000 individual postcards with details on this spring's code review process across Austin at a cost of $290,265. In the specific areas where the new ETOD overlays could be applied, an estimated 40,000 additional informational packets were sent out at a cost of about $45,500.

HOME Phase 2 explained

The HOME plan has been promoted by officials since last spring as a strategy to improve housing affordability and access to housing for middle-income earners, in response to years of surging home prices in the city. HOME was split into two parts and the first—allowing up to three units on residential lots—was approved in December after weeks of public debates.

Opponents of the plan have cautioned that the new regulations won't actually encourage smaller and lower-cost housing, and may end up furthering displacement and gentrification trends, especially in East Austin.

As of March 28, just under 30 applications for new construction under HOME Phase 1 had been filed with the city. The proposed residential projects are mostly located east of I-35, and vary in size and number of units.

Development Officer Erica Leak said the minimum lot size reduction under Phase 2 is meant to have a greater impact for fee simple homeownership—direct, individual property ownership—rather than rental or multiowner housing.

“The idea with HOME Phase 2 is to allow fee-simple ownership of each single lot. So that means they will be legally subdivided, they won’t be a condo regime," she said. "If you had a big enough lot you could legally subdivide it into these small lots. For HOME 1, all of those three units would be on one lot, and so if you wanted to sell them it would have to be through a condo regime. Or, you could rent out the units. But this is really being able to carve up property into smaller lots."

Citywide compatibility cuts explained

Changes to Austin's compatibility standards have been contemplated for years. The code amendment now on the table would set a 75-foot cap on compatibility's reach anywhere in the city, affecting far more property than a targeted approach that was adopted by council in 2022 but later struck down in court.

City staff have reported that compatibility has effectively blocked the creation of tens of thousands of new housing units around Austin by limiting the size of new development located as far as several blocks away from "triggering" single-family areas. A 2023 staff analysis found Austin could unlock the potential for more than 71,000 additional housing units by moving down to a 75-foot trigger distance.
Austin's compatibility standards cap the height of new buildings up to hundreds of feet away from single-family homes. (Courtesy city of Austin)
Austin's compatibility standards now limit the height of new buildings up to hundreds of feet away from single-family homes. (Courtesy city of Austin)
Planners and community members have also noted the current extent of compatibility in Austin is far stricter than in comparable cities with similar rules, which on average fall below a 100-foot range.

ETOD overlays explained

The promotion of "ETOD," or more equitable planning and building along Austin's new transit network, has also been ongoing for years. The new code adjustments would cement concepts many officials have been hoping to lay out since voters backed Project Connect several years ago.

Austin already has a citywide ETOD plan covering dozens of bus and rail stations, each with varying areas of focus for the types of development and strategies that could be adopted there. Only select properties around a handful of those station areas are in line for change this spring.

The code change would ban certain types of uses around the rail route that aren't viewed as transit friendly. Additionally, they'd grant up to 60 extra feet of building height beyond a property's base zoning, potentially bringing new construction up to 120 feet tall near the stations.

While some types of businesses would be prohibited under a new ETOD overlay going forward, the update would not affect any existing establishments—unless they seek to change their operations or expand in the future. Nearby residences also wouldn't be impacted.

Taken as a whole, Greathouse said staff hope the changes signal Austin's commitment to planning around transit as the planners behind Project Connect seek significant federal investment in the system.

"Putting these changes on the books now will allow us to be able to document to the feds that we’re serious about public transit and equitable access to transit in the city," she said.

EV charging controls explained

While Austin's climate goals call for more EV adoption citywide, officials also hope to keep the necessary charging infrastructure from intruding into quieter or more desirable areas, such as residential neighborhoods.

Staff have proposed limiting the facilities mainly to commercial or industrial areas off of more heavily trafficked roads. EV charging stations could also be allowed on certain major corridors closer to the city core.

Get involved

Austinites will have several chances to learn more and weigh in on the code updates before they're potentially adopted this spring. Feedback can also be submitted online.

First, City Council and the planning commission will take testimony from Austinites during a joint public hearing at 9 a.m. at City Hall on April 11.

Next, the following informational open houses will be held:
  • In-person: April 17 from 6-8 p.m. at the Central Library, 710 W. Cesar Chavez St.
  • Virtually: April 20 from 10 a.m.-noon. Register here.
Lastly, the planning commission will take up the items at meetings on April 23 and 30. Council is then scheduled to consider and vote on the items May 16.