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Austin Housing Profiles

Locality: Austin, Texas (USA)
City Population: 964,254 (2018)
Metro Population: 2.2 million (2018)  

Plan Title: Austin Strategic Housing Blueprint
Date of Plan: Spring 2017
Date of Case Study: December 2020

Substantive highlights

The Austin Strategic Housing Blueprint (commonly referred to as the “Blueprint”) was prepared by the City of Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department[1] (NHCD) and outlines a plan for aligning resources and identifying funding for the City’s housing goals. The plan identifies five community “values” to guide the development of the plan:

  • Prevent households from being priced out of Austin
  • Foster equitable, integrated, and diverse communities
  • Invest in housing for those most in need
  • Create new and affordable housing choices for all Austinites in all parts of Austin
  • Help Austinites reduce their household costs

The Blueprint specifies an overarching goal of creating or preserving 135,000 housing units over the next ten years and sub-targets for creating or preserving 60,000 affordable units for households in five different income categories.

The Blueprint emphasizes a need for additional and creative funding sources to achieve Austin’s housing goals. Among other funding mechanisms, the City aims to create a strike fund to provide low-cost loans to affordable housing developers to purchase and preserve existing affordable housing.

Process

In the spring of 2016, NHCD solicited community input to create the first draft of the Blueprint. The department hosted 13 community meetings, including at least one in each of Austin’s 10 council districts. In total, the department met with 400 stakeholders, including affordable housing developers, advocates, and legislators. NHCD also received over 400 responses from surveys of residents. Additionally, NHCD created a Housing Conversation Kit so that individuals could host conversations about housing with their neighborhood associations and civic groups.

With feedback from the community, NHCD drafted the Blueprint and presented it to the Housing and Planning Council Committee in the summer of 2016. This was followed by a public comment period in the fall of 2016, which enabled Austin residents to provide feedback on the draft. NHCD also hosted eight more community meetings, six of which were specifically designed to solicit feedback from minority and low-income residents.

In March of 2017, a task force convened by the Mayor issued the report “Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequalities.” NHCD then incorporated the report’s recommendations on fair housing into the Blueprint. Shortly thereafter, in April 2017, the City Council adopted the Blueprint and passed a resolution directing the city manager to identify the resources and specific action steps necessary to achieve the goals in the Blueprint.

In December of 2017, the City contracted with Asakura Robinson, a planning consultancy, and Austin Community Design & Development Center[2] (ACDDC), a community design and planning non-profit organization, to create an implementation plan for the Blueprint. The final Implementation Plan outlines 10-20 action steps for each of the five community values.

Metrics, targets, and implementation

The Blueprint documents Austin’s goal to create or preserve 135,000 new housing units over the next decade with a portion of the units affordable to different income groups:

  • 20,000 housing units affordable to 30% AMI households
  • 25,000 housing units affordable to 31-60% AMI households
  • 15,000 housing units affordable to 61-80% AMI households
  • 25,000 housing units affordable to 81-120% AMI households
  • 50,000 housing units affordable to 121% and above AMI households


Within these income categories, the Blueprint requires certain percentages of the housing units to meet additional requirements:

  • At least 10% of rental housing units should be affordable to households earning at or below 30% AMI ($24,300 or less for a 4-person household in 2016).
  • At least 25% of ownership housing units should be affordable to households earning at or below 120% AMI ($93,360 or less for a 4-person household in 2016).
  • At least 25% of new income-restricted affordable housing should be in high opportunity areas where residents have access to jobs, transportation, education, and a healthy environment.


The Blueprint also outlines measurable goals in five housing-related areas: preservation, high-needs populations, family-friendly housing, accessibility, and linkages to transportation.

Preservation

  • Preserve 10,000 affordable housing units over 10 years.
  • Assist 600 low-income households per year with home repair programs with the objective to help preserve existing housing stock.


High-Needs Populations

  • Produce 100 non-Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) units each year, with half of those units (50) being Housing First oriented.
  • Serve at least 20 people without a voucher and under 20% AMI each year in PSH.


Family-Friendly Housing

  • At least 30% of new housing should be a range of housing types from small-lot single-family to eight-plexes to help address Austin’s need for multi-generational housing.
  • 25% of affordable housing units that are created or preserved should have two or more bedrooms and a system to provide opportunities for families with children.


Accessibility

  • 100% of ground floor units in new developments funded by NHCD will be adaptableAn adaptable housing unit is a residential unit that is designed in such a way that it can be modified easily when required in the future to become accessible to the resident with disabilities without requiring costly and intensive alterations. (Source)[3] and 25% of all affordable units will be accessible.


Linkages to Transportation

  • 25% of affordable housing created or preserved to be within ¼ mile of high-frequency transit.
  • 75% of affordable housing created or preserved within ¾ mile of local, fixed-route transit service, ensuring Metro Access service for eligible persons with disabilities.
  • At least 75% of new housing units should be within 1/2 mile of Imagine Austin Centers and Corridors.

Implementation status

Through 2019, 4,788 affordable units at or below 80% median family income have been created.[4] Additionally, the Blueprint Implementation Briefing Book from early 2019 indicated that nine action steps had been completed.

These include:

  1. Dedicating additional resources to shared equity ownership programs
  2. Increasing coordination between relevant city departments to identify potential incentives for the creation of more living-wage jobs
  3. Acquiring land in underdeveloped activity centers and corridors, making it available to private or non-profit developers for the construction of affordable housing
  4. Revising policies to protect residents of city-subsidized properties from discrimination based on previous non-violent criminal conduct
  5. Creating a new voter-approved General Obligation Bonds to build and preserve thousands of quality affordable homes
  6. Utilizing Housing Development Assistance Program scoring criteria to determine which projects should receive support based on community priorities
  7. Providing additional opportunities for housing units with two bedrooms or more, particularly in high opportunity areas
  8. Utilizing RHDA for developments of all sizes, even those too small to participate in the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program
  9. Amending the Sidewalk Master Plan scoring criteria to award points for filling in gaps in sidewalks between affordable housing developments and transit

Coverage of four policy pillars

Not CoveredModerate FocusA pillar is a Moderate Focus of a housing strategy when the strategy addresses it, but in a minor or secondary way, such as by including only one policy of modest projected impact from the pillar.Substantial FocusA pillar is a Substantial Focus of a housing strategy when the strategy includes policies falling within multiple functional subcategories of that pillar or at least one policy projected to have a large impact.
Create and preserve dedicated affordable housing units
Promote affordability by reducing barriers to new supply
Help households access private-market homes
Protect against displacement and poor housing conditions

Participating agencies

No Role Supporting Role Leading Role
Office of the Mayor
Office of the City/County Manager
Housing & Planning Department
Development Agency
Permitting/Inspections Department
Finance/Tax Department
Public Housing Authority
City/County Council

Policy tools

The Austin Strategic Housing Blueprint identifies the following policies as tools the city will use (or hopes to use) to meet its housing goals.

Prevent households from being priced out of Austin

  • Support legislation for a flat dollar-amount homestead exemption rather than homestead exemption equaling a percentage of the appraised value of a property, which disproportionately benefits owners of high-value homes
  • Support legislation to create a preservation property tax exemption for Communities at Risk of Displacement
  • Allow homeowners to rent a portion of their house as a separate housing unit
  • Expand the use of Community Land Trusts and other forms of Shared Equity Ownership
  • Increase the supply of multi-bedroom housing for families with children
  • Develop programs and policies that can help mitigate gentrification pressures in historically low-income neighborhoods such as the creation of a low-interest loan fund or grant for preservation in gentrifying areas
  • Preserve and create ownership options for households at 80% to 120% AMI by increasing income limits on general obligation Bond elections and expanding the S.M.A.R.T (Safe, Mixed-Income, Accessible, Reasonably Priced, Transit-Oriented) program 
  • Coordinate preservation strategies with infrastructure investments that increase property values by working with building owners to help preserve the affordability of properties
  • Use Incentives to support the production of living wage jobs and increase coordination with relevant city departments to find incentives
  • Consider the development of a district plan for Central East Austin

Foster equitable, integrated, and diverse communities

  • Develop a Strike Fund to strategically acquire, renovate, and manage existing multifamily buildings to make them affordable for the long term
  • Implement the City of Austin’s Fair Housing Action Plan and bolster enforcement of existing fair housing requirements
  • Undertake strategic land banking to help developers properties and sites on which to build affordable and/or mixed-income housing
  • Implement a tenant relocation assistance program requiring property owners to provide advance notice to tenants when their place of residence will be demolished or closed
  • Protect renters from discrimination based on source of income by ensuring all voluntary developer incentive programs prohibit landlords from discriminating against renters based on their use of vouchers
  • Implement recommendations in Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable Report: Locked Out
  • Add flexibility to occupancy limits and monitor whether and how occupancy limits have impacted new construction
  • Pursue legislation to allow inclusionary zoning and rent control
  • Fully utilize homestead preservation district tools as a dedicated funding stream to reinvest in affordability within the most impoverished areas of Austin
  • Develop programs, resources, and guides to aid with small scale preservation
  • Support community goal for at least 25% of new income-restricted affordable housing to be in moderate-to-high opportunity areas

Invest in housing for those most in need

  • Pursue future general obligation bond elections for affordable housing and utilize the National Housing Trust Fund
  • Provide additional local fund appropriations for affordable housing
  • Leverage Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and prioritize applications for city funding based on community priorities
  • Challenge private sector to participate in a fund for affordable housing and/or workforce housing
  • Utilize Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) for Affordable Housing 
  • Utilize social impact bonds/pay for success models for people experiencing homelessness through permanent supportive housing and other supportive services
  • Support the creation of deeply affordable units serving people at 20% AMI and below
  • Maximize public property to build or include affordable housing and create a strategy to purchase state-owned lands as they come up for sale
  • Incentive programs through the development of income-restricted affordable housing through fee waivers, including impact fees
  • Support efforts to prevent and end homelessness by working with private landlords to accept residents experiencing chronic homelessness and increase the supply of PSH
  • Expand the supply of housing for people with disabilities by requiring 100% of ground floor units for city-funded projects adaptable and 25% accessible

Create new and affordable housing choices for all Austinites in all parts of Austin

  • Implement consistent density bonus programs for centers and corridors
  • Streamline city codes and permitting processes by integrating and coordinating permitting processes across all departments
  • Provide additional funding to monitor Austin’s affordable housing investments and elevate staffing needs as required
  • Revise  S.M.A.R.T. (Safe, Mixed-Income, Accessible, Reasonably Priced, Transit-Oriented) Housing Program to lengthen the affordability period and to better balance developer benefits with unit construction
  • Allow the development of smaller houses on smaller lots
  • Create pre-approved standard plans for infill development
  • Relax Regulations on both Internal/External Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), More Affordable Housing Products, and Housing Cooperatives (Co-ops)
  • Utilize planned unit developments (PUDs) to provide a range of affordability through increased housing diversity and improved transportation choices
  • Increase housing diversity in new subdivisions by incentivizing the development of a range of housing types, including missing middle housing and co-housing formats
  • Support legislation or other mechanisms to create a multifamily property tax exemption program
  • Complete an Affordable Housing Nexus Study to determine whether a relationship exists between new development and the city’s affordable housing needs
  • Consider building and fire code modifications to allow six stories of wood frame construction
  • Develop a real-time database of housing for available affordable housing units, services, resources, and incentives to better connect buyers and renters with affordable housing

Help Austinites reduce their household costs

  • Strengthen scoring criteria and develop policies to prioritize affordable housing near current and future transit service
  • Minimize the displacement of core transit riders by ensuring that development does not reduce transit ridership
  • Link housing choices with transportation choices by supporting a rewrite of the land development code, in amending regulations and entitlements to ensure density is supported around transit stations
  • Comprehensive parking reform such as reducing parking requirements for multifamily housing that are within 1/4 mile of frequent transit service
  • Increase bikeability and walkability and Align Sidewalk Master Plan with Imagine Austin
  • Ensure access to affordable care, a healthful environment, healthy food, and quality communications and digital services for all residents
  • Increase opportunities for households to reduce utility costs by encouraging weatherization as well as efficient household appliances, fixtures, and mechanical systems

Income Groups Targeted

Little/No Focus Moderate Focus Substantial Focus
0-30% AMI
30-60% AMI
60-80% AMI
80-120% AMI
Market Rate

Principal housing policy objectives

Which linkages are addressed

TransportationHealth

Which local funding sources are proposed?

Remaining Funding from 2013 Affordable Housing Bond ProgramStrike Fund[5]
Austin Housing Trust Fund

NEW Affordable Housing Bond Program[6]

Footnotes

[1] In October 2020 NHCD merged with the Planning and Zoning Department to become the Housing and Planning Department (HPD)

[2] Now called Community Powered Workshop

[3] An adaptable housing unit is a residential unit that is designed in such a way that it can be modified easily when required in the future to become accessible to the resident with disabilities without requiring costly and intensive alterations.

[4] Based on December 2020 correspondence with Austin’s Housing and Planning Department

[5] A $300M strike fund for affordable housing and to address housing displacement was approved as part of the $7.1B transit bond approved by Austin voters in November 2020.

[6] A $250M Affordable Housing Bond was approved by Austin voters in 2018.

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