Austin housing issues weighed at May 1 Engage Breakfast

Panelist at the May 1 Engage Breakfast in the Kodosky Lounge at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Riverside Drive, pointed to the City of Austin's Land Development Code as a key factor in keeping up with housing demand.

"The cost of building houses affects people who are buying million dollar homes, $200,000 homes and $50,000 homes, if they ever existed again," said Paul Hilgers, president of the Austin Board of REALTORS. "Looking at the unnecessary costs of building a house and extracting them from the process, and still having certainty in the Land Development Code, still having certainty in the building process that tells the developers this is the kind of housing we want built helps the affordable housing developers, and it helps the private developers as well."

Panelists included Pete Dwyer, president of Dwyer Realty Companies; Frank Fernandez, executive director of Green Doors—a nonprofit that aims to prevent homelessness—and Hilgers. The breakfast is organized by the community leadership nonprofit Leadership Austin.

Dwyer said the Austin area is going to need to add about 500,000 new households in the next 20 years in order to keep up with the city's expected growth. Central Texas is expected to have about 65,000 to 70,000 new residents a year, which puts a strain on housing availability, according to Dwyer.

"That means we need about 25,000 homes a year to keep up with that growth rate," Dwyer said. "Well, with the market downturn and economic difficulties and a challenged economy over the last three or four years, we have not kept pace with that growth rate. We've had more people coming in than we've been supplying housing for."

Dwyer said when there's a high demand but a constrained supply, home prices are driven up.

Fernandez said the higher cost in housing significantly affects people in lower-income brackets by requiring them to pay more than they can afford for a home, live in substandard conditions or live with multiple people or families in the same home.

"As you've heard, Austin is this vibrant, wonderful place, but in many ways, we are victims of our own success," Fernandez said. "When it becomes harder and harder for middle class and other folks to be able to buy a home or be able to rent a home, what happens to those who are actually much worse off?"

The panelists hoped that rewriting the Land Development Code would help bring down the costs of developing and building homes and that those costs would not be passed on to the consumer.

Fernandez said that every time $1,000 is added to the cost of building a home through the development process, that home becomes unaffordable to about 17,000 people.

Hilgers said though the problem is complicated, he thinks it is possible for Austin to reach a solution to its housing needs through building incentives, subsidies and reworking the development process.

"It's really, always, a both/and solution to this issue. It's not an either/or," Hilgers said. "It's not a silver bullet. As somebody said, it's not even a silver shotgun shell. It's a whole blast of a whole bunch of different ideas that we have to find a way to put together."

The next Engage Breakfast is expected to be held June 4 on the topic of transportation. For more information, visit www.leadershipaustin.org/programs/engage/series



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