Austin wants to house 3,000 in 3 years, but it’s behind on previous 2017 housing goal


AUSTIN (KXAN) — This year, the City of Austin announced a robust plan to house 3,000 people in three years. That would mean creating more than 750 new units of permanent supportive housing.

But KXAN found the city is already behind on a previous housing plan announced in 2017.

“I can’t think of any of our employees that I know of that live in a condo downtown, even though both my restaurants are downtown,” said C.K. Chin, a local business owner.

Housing has made it even harder for him to find employees as he reopens.

“The need of more workers, but not enough places for these people to live,” he said.

In 2017 the city launched its Strategic Housing Blueprint to help, with a goal of creating 60,000 affordable units across different income brackets by 2028.

This graphic from housing advocacy group HousingWorks Austin illustrates what types of neighbors fall into different income levels in the city of Austin. (Source: HousingWorks Austin)
This graphic from housing advocacy group HousingWorks Austin illustrates what types of neighbors fall into different income levels in the City of Austin. (Source: HousingWorks Austin)

But their latest scorecard for 2019 reveals they’re way behind.

The city will need to develop more than 13,000 units per year to catch up. That’s affordable housing for all income brackets — high to below poverty.

Erica Leak, City of Austin Housing and Planning Department development officer, said the goals were “incredibly ambitious.”

“They weren’t necessarily set based on the resources that we knew were available, but council was very clear that they wanted to set the goals based on the actual need, rather than the resources available,” she said.

The city has now added another goal — to create hundreds of housing units in three years for the homeless community. Leak said it adds to the current blueprint, increasing the number of permanent supportive housing units to be built in the city.

KXAN’s Tahera Rahman asked Leak how they plan to fulfill those promises.

“The intention was never that the city could create all of the units that we know we need… and it will take all sorts of partners,” she said.

Partners like private developers, which Conor Kenny said are becoming more interested in building affordable housing.

Kenny is with Civilitude Group, a full-service development firm that has helped build 500 mixed income and affordable housing units over the last couple years. They currently have two proposals with the city. Kenny said it takes a minimum of three years to get a building up.

“We really have to be striking those agreements, like right now, this summer,” said Kenny, Civilitude Group and Capital A Housing public affairs director.

He said making that new goal is tough but doable.

“I think the problem with our plans in the past is that they haven’t been adequately funded,” Kenny said. “And what I am seeing now that’s different is that folks down at city hall do realize there’s an enormous amount of funds that needs to be committed.”

Leak said because the blueprint is a 10-year plan, the city still has time to come up with new ways to meet those goals, too. But she said the biggest challenge in building affordable housing is funding.

Right now, she said units are mostly funded by the 2018 affordable housing bond, but that is only for five years, so another funding source will have to be identified.

Kenny said the city also needs to update its land development code from the 1980s, calling it a big impediment to affordable housing developers.

“There’s certainly a number of things that we haven’t gotten to yet that absolutely need to be done if we’re going to succeed,” he said.

Even Chin is considering contributing to the solution.

“What about if we, you know, got some properties ourselves and subsidized them to become housing for our employees or something like that?” he said.

The city said the next scorecard for the strategic housing blueprint is set to come out this fall or winter.

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