AUSTIN (KXAN) —  Although there are more housing developments popping up all over Austin, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee they will be affordable.

This week, Austin City Council will decide on a new tier for its vertical mixed-use (VMU) program.

Nowadays, any resident making 80% or less of the median family income in Austin — $98,900 — can qualify for affordable housing.

On average, what’s defined as “affordable” can cost around $1,350 for a one-bedroom apartment.

For Urbanspace Realtors CEO Kevin Burns, this seems sky high.

“I can’t believe we’re in a market now where $1,350 for a one-bedroom is considered affordable,” he said. “When I went to UT Austin, $1,350 would probably get you a three-bedroom apartment.”

Momark Development president Terry Mitchell said the solution is medium-density housing.

“The more units you can add, the lower your costs go per unit,” he explained. “Which means lower rent and lower the sales price.”

This means more vertical mixed-use developments, buildings with apartments on top and commercial space on the bottom.

Those are already subject to a density bonus program from the city, where the developers gain height for designating affordable units.

Recently, Austin City Council put forth a proposal, which would create a second tier of VMU projects that can build up to 30 feet of additional height in exchange for even more affordable units.

Comparison between the current VMU program and the proposed program (VMU2) set to be voted on by Austin City Council on Thursday.
Comparison between the current VMU program and the proposed program (VMU2) set to be voted on by Austin City Council on Thursday.

“The occupancy rates are so high in Austin right now that people that are looking for apartments are not able to find apartments,” Austin City Council member José “Chito” Vela said.

Council’s amendment would remove complex compatibility standards, which have prevented proposed sites from building their bonus height.

“One single-family house can restrict the construction of a tall apartment building in a really large area around it,” Vela said.

Vela has also suggested another amendment to this agenda item, which would waive parking requirements in order to allow even more units to be built.

The City said its VMU program has already provided more than 540 affordable housing units spanning over 29 projects.

“Creating more housing, in general, creates more affordability, more affordability reduces homelessness, it solves all problems,” Burns concluded.

VMU2 will be put to a vote by Austin City Council on Thursday.