Austin City Council reviews relaxing restrictions for affordable housing

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council Member Greg Casar introduced a resolution Tuesday morning that proposes easing building restrictions in certain situations to build more affordable housing. 

According to the resolution, buildings with at least 50 percent affordable units would be able to build higher than what the code requires for that neighborhood or be granted waivers for other rules, such as parking requirements or compatiblity standards for height and setbacks. 

For rental units, the defintion of “affordable” would be affordable for people making 60 percent of Austin area’s median income. 

According to the city’s website, as of June 1, 2018, 60 percent median income for a family of four is $51,600. 

“People in our community needed more affordable housing yesterday, so this needs to happen quickly,” Casar Said.

Casar, the District 4 representative, said he’s already received support from Council Members Pio Renteria, Delia Garza and Natasha Harper-Madison. All of their districts include neighborhoods in east Austin. 

Casar said, “If you are providing low income housing in at least half of your project, then you can do more bedrooms, and you can do more height.”

The qualifying projects could:

  • Waive compatibility standards for height and setbacks
  • Increase building height to 1.25 times the current zoning district’s height entitlements
  • Waive parking requirements
  • Reduce front yard and rear setbacks by 50 percent
  • Increase density, by 1.5 times the current zoning district’s density limits or allow six units, whichever is greater
  • Waive maximum floor-to-area-ratio
  • Waive the Residential Design Standards, as codified in Chapter 25-2, Subchapter E
  • Waive the requirement to submit a site plan for projects of 12 or fewer units
  • Waive common wall, roof, front porch, and other restrictions specific to duplexes in Section 25-2-773

“Sometimes our own rules get in our own way,” Casar said. “We’ve seen time after time, where the City Council has gotten behind building more affordable homes, then some of our city rules can restrict the number of homes in a location by 50 percent, or up to 100 percent.”

Austin Habitat for Humanity said the resolution opens up opportunities.

“Decades ago, Austin Habitat would buy a plot of land for $5,000 – $10,000 and we can put one or two homes on that land. Today, that same land is $300,000-400,000, and we can still only put one or two homes on it,” said Greg Anderson, Director of Community Affairs at Austin Habitat for Humanity.

He said, “This resolution is going to allow us to build in really high opportunity places that we’d love to have our great Austinite hard working families live in once again.”

However, Susana Almanza, Director of Poder, said the resolution may not benefit people who make 20 to 30 percent of median income.

“We’re giving away density, compatibility standards. All of this talk about how density equals affordability. There’s no evidence that density equals afforability,” she said. “It does not address the needs of cashiers, the janitors, the home health care workers, daycare workers, it does not address that population at all.”

She said she’s also concerned about waiving parking requirements.

“Right now that’s a big issue in a lot of neighborhoods. We’re building a lot of apartment units, but we don’t have a lot of parking,” Almanza said. 

Casar said the resolution is a much-needed solution to the city’s affordability crisis.

The City Council will vote on the matter February 21st. Casar said, if it’s approved, the City Manager will amend the code. Then the City Council will vote again on the new law.

He’s hoping all of this will be done by this summer. 

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