Austin City Council Member Greg Casar proposed “Affordability Unlocked” on February 5, a draft resolution to create a citywide mandatory zoning bonus program for developments that provide increased affordable housing. The measure aims to maximize the use of public dollars by eliminating zoning barriers like density limitations and parking requirements and to create more affordable housing in areas with greater opportunities. The Austin Strategic Planning Blueprint released in 2017 and other reports have identified land-use restrictions as cumbersome barriers to developing more affordable housing. A $250 million bond for affordable housing (see Memo, 10/22/18) was passed by voters in November 2018, but some current zoning restrictions stand in the way of maximizing these dollars. (Council Member Casar will be speaking on a panel related to how communities can achieve housing development without displacement at the NLIHC’s 2019 Housing Policy Forum: Seizing the Moment for Bold Solutions in Washington, DC, March 27-29. Register at: http://www.nlihcforum.org/.)
Under “Affordability Unlocked,” eligible projects for renters would include those with half or more of the total units averaging affordability at 60% of the area median income (AMI) or below and 20% of the total units to be affordable to 50% AMI or below. Eligible homeownership projects would be required to be affordable to 80% AMI or below. The proposed affordability period is a minimum of 40 years for rental projects and 99 years for homeownership projects. The target populations would include families – at least 25% of the homes must have two or more bedrooms unless they are for older adults or are permanent supportive housing. The resolution includes language to protect current tenants in redevelopment projects, including retaining their units and their affordability once the projects are completed. The new zoning bonus program could be used in addition to any other existing affordable housing bonus program.
Austin’s potential for affordable housing development is currently largely confined to a few segregated districts. The proposed resolution states the new zoning bonus program would not only serve more people through zoning allowances but also provide deeper-income affordability. Though some have expressed concern that the new homes will not reach extremely low-income households living at or below 30% of AMI, Austin’s housing bonds prioritize projects with deeper levels of affordability by law. Councilman Casar says the proposal will benefit many developments that include permanent supportive housing and those targeting people with extremely low incomes. Some parts of the city already have density bonus programs, but many are voluntary and in areas that provide fewer opportunities for residents. Waiving zoning rules and restrictions will allow eligible projects to build more affordable housing, including in areas that have not traditionally included many affordable homes.
One example of how the program will increase the number of affordable homes is Saigebrook Development’s Aria Grand, which is currently under construction. This development consists of 60 affordable units. If it were not for parking and other requirements the project had to address to win zoning approval, 30 additional units could have been created for a total of 90 affordable homes.
Councilman Casar has so far received support from Council Members Sabino “Pio” Renteria, Delia Garza, and Natasha Harper-Madison. The City Council will vote on the measure on February 21. If passed, the city manager will amend the code, and the City Council will vote again for final approval. Councilman Casar is hopeful the measure will be successful and go into effect by summer.
Read the “Affordability Unlocked” draft resolution at: https://bit.ly/2WQFd4v
Read the Austin Strategic Planning Blueprint at: https://bit.ly/2AdGl8Y
Read more about the $250 million bond passed in November 2018 at: https://bit.ly/2GwgHQI
Register for the NLIHC 2019 Housing Policy Forum March 27-29 at: http://www.nlihcforum.org/