Affordable Housing Accelerator showcases inaugural cohort

An example of a tiny home from Austin-based developer Kasita.

An example of a tiny home from Austin-based developer Kasita.

With its Affordable Housing Accelerator, co-working space Impact Hub Austin has endeavored to tackle one of Austin's most complex and persistent problems: a lack of affordable housing.

The accelerator’s first cohort, made up of nine organizations, will present solutions to Austin’s affordable housing project, which range from tiny homes to advocacy work to 3D printing. The event, scheduled for Jan. 24, is open to the public.

While Impact Hub Austin is functionally a co-working space, the company is also solutions-oriented and committed to making a positive impact on its immediate community, according to Ashley Phillips, Impact Hub’s managing director.

The Affordable Housing Accelerator was developed in order to bring together Austin’s tech, creative, entrepreneurial and activist industries to better tackle the problem of the city’s decreasing affordability.

“These are not issues that the current entrepreneurial or tech industries are working on,” Phillips said. “Because they’re hard, and there’s no unicorn.”

Impact Hub hopes that it can help facilitate sustainable, intersectional solutions to the affordable housing problem. It also hopes to apply its accelerator template to other issues, like economic development, with future cohorts, Phillips said.

In discussing the issue of affordable housing with realtors, developers, city staff and nonprofit groups, Impact Hub determined three focus areas for its accelerator. Financial accessibility was prioritized to ensure that projects would be affordable to develop and could viably secure financing. Efficiency was necessary because housing options that are time-consuming to develop are more expensive. And advocacy was important because leaders in the affordable housing sector need to understand such topics as land-use policy.

Applications were solicited from all sectors: public, private and nonprofit. Of the 50 applicants, Impact Hub chose nine to comprise its first cohort.

Participants include ICON, a company that uses 3D printing to automate construction, which lowers cost and minimizes risk; Farm & City, a public policy nonprofit that advocates for a healthier, more walkable Austin; and Alley Flat Initiative Anti-Displacement Financing Program, which helps low-income homeowners avoid being priced out of their communities.

Over the last few months, the cohort met with affordable housing experts and visited Austin neighborhoods where affordable housing might be developed.

Although not every project will continue to develop after next week’s showcase, Phillips said that most will seek investors and live on outside of the accelerator. Others will pivot to more viable projects based on what members learned as part of the cohort or will seek acquisitions from institutions with more resources.

“It’s like trying to choose my favorite child,” Phillips said about which of the nine projects she is most excited about, before citing two in particular.

Affordable Central Texas is a nonprofit real estate investment fund that has raised $200,000 to acquire affordable developments, ranging from 40 to 50 units each, in Austin. Their goal is to tie rent growth to wage growth.

According to the Austin Board of Realtors, the median family home price increased more than 45 percent between 2010 and 2016. Over the same period, the median family income increased less than 6 percent.

Affordable Central Texas hopes to acquire its first development by March.

Unlike Affordable Central Texas, cohort member Sprouts Tiny Homes intends to build affordable housing rather than acquire existing properties. The Colorado-based manufacturer is working with local developer Kasita to launch a tiny homes development March 1.

The tiny homes are between 600 and 1,000 square feet. Homeowners do not own the land, which lowers costs, and are eligible for long-term financing.

Phillips acknowledges that tiny living is “not for everyone” but said Sprouts is prompting “a necessary conversation” about simpler, more sustainable living.

The challenge, however, is marketing these affordable options to the people who need them most, before an increased demand inflates costs.

This is possible with more thoughtful marketing on the front end, Phillips said.

Even so, Impact Hub and its accelerated cohort has its work cut out for them.

“It’s not sexy,” she said. “It’s really hard work.”

The accelerator's Community Showcase Day will take place from 6-8 p.m. Jan. 24 at Impact Hub North Lamar, located at 5540 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin.


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