Affordability is on the minds of most everyone in Austin. This became even more apparent during our first round of conversations in March when we asked community members what issues were most important to them. Affordability, not surprisingly, was at the very top of the list. So during the month of July we asked: What does creating an affordable Austin mean to you? What does it mean for your neighbor or the family across town? How can Austin provide more options for all households to live more affordably? Read more background details here.
Conversation Feedback Summary
Austin area residents gathered at a variety of community spaces throughout the month of July 2015 to discuss affordability in the city. Conversations centered on what affordability meant to those in attendance, and what barriers existed between individuals and the quality of life they desired.
One of the major themes to emerge was the need for strategic growth in the city. Resident’s lamented the results of the “don’t build it, and they won’t come” mentality of earlier years, and the “big city problems” Austin is now facing from years of rapid growth into a major city. There was a sense of concern for those who can no longer afford to live here, and worry over what may happen to Austin in the future if the problem of affordability isn’t addressed. There was, however, a sense of hope that the creative spirit of the city and its residents will come through in new solutions to the problems of growth and gentrification.
While there were conflicting views on the merits of higher population density as a solution to Austin’s affordability crisis, there was consensus on the need for more low-income housing, mixed-use development, and flexibility in zoning restrictions. Several ideas were put forth as solutions to the need for affordable housing, such as rent control, cooperative housing, and micro-units.
Rising property taxes were a major concern among participants, with a special concern for disabled, low-income, veteran, and elderly Austinites. There was a sense of frustration that the growth and economic development the city is experiencing isn’t translating into any tangible benefit for residents. Participants raised the idea of incentives, such as caps, for long-term residents to better enable them to stay in their homes.
Participants expressed frustration with alternative transportation options offered by the city, with many saying they would love to be one or no car families but feel unable to because of issues with the ease and accessibility of bus routes, bike lanes, and the lack of rail and other options. The upfront and upkeep costs of car, bus, rail, and bike transit, and the barriers this raises for low-income Austinites, was also raised. Many said they found accessing services and resources, such as employment, grocery stores, city and state services, and outdoor recreation, through public and alternative transit difficult.
Education and workforce development came up in several conversations, with participants concerned about the affordability and equity of educational services offered by the city. Participants expressed a desire for better career and technical programs, a higher minimum wage, fewer incentives and concern for large corporations and outside talent, more support for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and incentives for employers to help address their employees’ affordability concerns. There was a consensus that the way the city handled these two areas would strongly define the future character and make-up of communities throughout the city.
Participants also expressed concern about the efficiency and efficacy of city services and policies and their impact on affordability. Suggestions that come up in conversation were to streamline and consolidate city services, make city and county spending more transparent, and to listen to citizen input and use it to create policies that positively impact the cost of living and quality of life for Austinites.
How discussion feedback has been used
On September 21, Conversation Corps staff presented feedback from the affordability conversations to the Regional Affordability Committee. That presentation can be found here.
Feedback from conversations will also be incorporated as input for the City of Austin’s Annual Action Plan, as well as for the Strategic Housing Plan. Information about those processes is included in this memo, and on the Housing Plan website.
Final update: CapMetro: July 2016 - Affordability
Feedback on affordability is helping to shape Capital Metro’s transit-oriented development projects. The Plaza Saltillo project, a 120,000 square foot mixed use development that will break ground in 2017, will offer 15% affordable units, as well as direct access to public transit.