Where Did Austin's Affordable Housing Go?
A new study shows that middle-class families are being priced out of Central Austin
If you make less than 50 grand a year and think you (and your kids) now have snowball-in-hell odds of ever affording a house in Central Austin, you're not imagining things. A recent comprehensive housing market study delivered by a Denver consultant to City Council and staff in March documents the dwindling supply of housing affordable for Austin's regular folk and the effects of this "housing gap" on the community.
The contrasting 1998 and 2008 maps shown here depict the sprawling outward creep of houses affordable to families living on 51% to 80% of median family income ($34,554 to $55,280 a year). Besides being bad for the environment, this middle-class migration means that Austinites least able to afford higher transportation costs are being pushed farther and farther from the jobs and services of the central city. Not good.
The study's top-line recommendations to reverse the trend: 1) Re-evaluate the zoning and development process (as part of Austin's Comprehensive Plan), 2) set affordable-housing targets, 3) examine regulatory barriers to housing development, 4) consider additional development incentives to produce affordable housing, and 5) supplement existing funding.
Among the study's other conclusions:
• Households earning $50,000 can afford 36% of the attached units (condos) on the market but only 16% of the houses.
• Those earning $75,000 and up have many more options for homes to buy – but just 13% of renters earn this much.
• Austin needs more homes priced between $113,000 and $240,000 to enable renters earning $35,000 to $75,000 to buy.
Citing "a disturbing picture," the nonprofit Liveable City called for incorporating the study's findings into the Comprehensive Plan process and drew special attention to these study conclusions (here pulled from Liveable City's newsletter):
• Austin housing costs increased 85% over the last 10 years.
• Austin workers – especially retail workers – are being pushed out of town by high housing prices.
• Recent UT grads and young people are leaving Austin due to high housing costs.
• Austin lacks affordable housing for 29,000 households.
• To improve the situation, Austin needs to add at least 1,000 new housing units a year affordable to households earning $20,000 or less.
• Twenty-three separate ordinances related to development in the last 18 months have increased development costs.
Read the entire study at www.cityofaustin.org/housing/apr08chms.htm. Then go blow that $2,000 you were saving toward a down payment on lottery tickets – your best shot at a nice house anywhere near Central Austin.