Austin City Council is finally making affordability easier.
But only for some people.
Recently, city council passed a resolution dubbed “affordability unlocked,” which finally removes some city restrictions to building new housing. Eliminating the restrictions will make it easier and cheaper for developers to construct places to live.
The decision to throw out some restrictions is no doubt good news for Austinites, mainly because those restrictions have crippled attempts at new construction and are one of the primary reasons why affordable housing is now scarce.
For years, city council enacted strict laws that disabled new housing and made it expensive to build; now, astonishingly, there aren’t enough places to live and it’s expensive to build.
“Every regulation the city does just adds another layer of cost to what would be an affordable house otherwise,” said Donovan Davis, president of Austin firm Danze & Davis Architects. “What used to cost maybe $75 for us to do a site plan in Austin now costs over $2,000 because of the amount of time it takes to do all those regulations that we do.”
As far as the council’s suffocating construction restrictions, even Council Member Greg Casar, a proud member of the Democratic Socialists of America, recognized the shocking fact that restricting construction makes it harder to build any housing.
“Our city’s potential to build more affordable housing for families is currently locked up by needless restrictions,” Casar said in a statement.
So after city council’s restrictions have had disastrous consequences for working families, the council is finally unkinking the hose they originally tangled up.
There’s just one massive problem with their new resolution: they’re only removing a few restrictions on a few specific projects.
So, unfortunately, the problem at large remains untouched.
Granted, Casar, who championed the resolution, deserves credit for tearing down at least a couple of restrictions. Ironically, Casar has voted in the past to actually put up more barriers to housing by adding restrictions, such as a “solar-ready” requirement for new houses. But at least now he’s correct when he says the city is blocking new affordable housing from working families.
“This [resolution] will help us get out of the way to make that happen,” he said.
Here’s the real question, though: Why not get out of the way completely?
Council’s latest action only unkinks sparingly and only removes a couple of barriers, so the vast majority of Austinites still won’t have relief or opportunities for affordable housing.
And for many Austinites, they’re running out of time.
“More than a thousand people a week move to Austin,” said Michael Gerber, the president and CEO of the Austin Housing Authority. “We need creative solutions that cut through red tape to help get as much affordable housing on the ground as we can.”
Again, why not just get rid of the red tape completely?
Apparently, that’s still not an option for city council, but perhaps their latest action shows that they are finally starting to realize the consequences of their past decisions and are closer to actually unkinking the entire hose.
Council’s resolution will now be drafted into ordinance and is expected to receive final approval by May.