Consider Co-ops

RECEIVED Tue., July 25, 2017

Dear Editor,
    In the Chronicle’s July 14 article [“Building the Foundation,” News], Joseph Caterine explains how we will need a patchwork of housing providers to alleviate Austin’s affordable housing crisis.
    One type of affordable, community-oriented housing not mentioned in the article is housing co-operatives. There are currently around 20 in Austin – both student and non-student – dating back over 50 years. In this model, residents co-own and democratically run the property, often sharing resources. This could be as simple as families co-owning a row of houses on a block, or as involved as a shared house with communal food, divided chores, regular meetings, and policies to assist with operations and conflict. In Austin, co-ops cost 40-60% of prevailing market rental rates. Such savings prevent people from being driven to Austin’s periphery, historically segregated neighborhoods, and dilapidated complexes, and allow those who would not normally be able to acquire property to become homeowners. Moreover, co-ops can bring other benefits, such as more healthful eating, community support, and development of interpersonal and organizational skills.
    Despite the good co-ops could do in this strained housing climate, they currently face many bureaucratic hurdles. The current draft of CodeNEXT limits co-ops largely to high-density areas along major roads, which is extremely cost prohibitive. The code also caters to more traditional living structures, rather than the format many co-ops adopt with a larger number of bedrooms centered around communal kitchen, bathroom, and living spaces. With relaxed land-use regulations and an allowance in more zones, co-ops would have a much easier time expanding to serve more Austinites and help in the affordable housing effort.
Beth Aavang
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