Currently, not really in effect as major areas
Currently, housing in Austin, Texas and its suburbs are expensive and nearly impossible for the average citizen to buy, or even rent. Texas leaders cite multiple reasons for this such as: strict government regulations, demand for housing due to increasing population, and largely because of a lack of “entry level homes”. (7). Another culprit mentioned was property tax; Governor Abbott stated that some city projects have “increased the tax burden on other property owners” (7). This tax is not supportable by those affected as it was reported that in Austin, those making anything less than $30K to $55K already spend more than “30% of their income on housing” (7).
Another cause for unaffordability are food desert (8). This is where a place of living is not close to a source of healthy food such as a grocery store causing people to pay more for transportation just to acquire food (8). As a result of distance, people tend to buy more food from fast-food places or convenience stores which is not only unhealthy, but sometimes costlier than food from a grocery store. Poor proximity could be attributed to the fact that no one planned for Austin to become this large, and certainly not this populated. For this reason, long term planning was not really in effect as major areas came together (11). Food is not near homes, roads are inefficient, public transportation is poor, and homes are not available to a range of incomes.
In addition, complicated zoning laws and regulations are causing additional issues (10). Housing Director DeMayo believes that “Rewriting the land development code is incredibly important…and will ensure that Austin can serve a wide range of…homes marketed at varying price points” (9). Joining the list of causes for unaffordability above, laws prohibiting the state from making places more affordable such as “rent control and exclusionary zoning” also lend themselves to the issue (10). However, given Texas’ business friendly attitude, the barring of such laws as those is not a surprise.
Fortunately for the situation, a part of this issue has already been solved–Austin has acknowledged that affordability is an issue. All that is left is to put for the work and research to solve the problems without creating worse ones. Austin has taken steps to begin rectifying the affordability issue with its strategy to focus its efforts on the parts of the problem they have almost stronf control over like transportation alternatives and to some degree, diversity (8, 11). First, CodeNEXT is on the table (10). This will be a rewrite of Austin’s Land Development code (10). One aim for this rewrite is to “encourage developers to build affordable” housing through a system of bonuses and relaxations of certain regulations such as number of stories allowed in a zone type (10). Another program set in place to improve affordability is the “Household Affordability Priority Program” (13). The program was created to analyze the needs of the community as well as begin the steps to meet those needs (13).
Already there are programs in place trying to have developers build more affordable living spaces as well as “Down Payment Assistance”-though paired with some stringent qualifications-, as well as home-buying training programs (11). In addition to housing-focused programs, there are other affordability impacting programs such as after-school food, a “Kid’s Café program” for free meals to children, and summer child care (11). Unfortunately, as these programs are already in place, they must not be doing enough; affordability is still a massive issue. There are other programs and actions on the agenda, however.
The city plans to work with businesses in Austin to try and increase minimum wage, hopefully thereby lessening the tax burden on those on minimum wage (12). At the same time, if Austin is to solve one of its biggest issues, items on the to-do list must be ordered to have the most important tasks completed first (12). Also, it would be prudent of Austin to cease adding increasing amounts of “add-on fees” to everyone’s bill for such things as composting or drainage fees (12). Furthermore, the few affordable neighborhoods existing already should be protected (12). Austin does not have much affordable living as it is; therefore it would be beneficial to keep what little it does have as it works to create more. However, these programs would still not be enough. Issues such as wages not increasing, long-term residents being ousted, and lack of “enforceable standards for neighborhood traffic and land use compatibility” must all be tackled 12).