Austin's Growing Pains

We’ve got “an affordability problem”

If it's spring – a bit early even for Austin, but the redbuds say yes – it's survey time, and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has followed the City of Austin's "Community Survey" with its own production, an annual "Voter Survey" performed Dec. 12-14. Produced for the GACC by Baselice & Associates, it's more narrowly focused than the city's version, with 501 respondents (a fourth of the city's number) generating a larger margin of error (+/- 4.4% to the city's +/- 2.1%). But it uses reasonable geographic and political spreads, and has a few points of overlap with the city's results.

The most obvious of these: In the Community Survey, respondents graded the city's "planning for growth" very poorly – at 13% approval rating, compared to a 33% national average in large cities. The question is framed differently in the GACC survey, asking respondents if the city should "plan for some more growth" or "stop or slow down growth." Sixty percent of respondents said "plan for more growth," even if that means paying more for "transportation, energy, and water infrastructure." Thirty-one percent said "stop or slow down growth" (8% were unsure).

Other questions/responses were less illuminating. The surveyors asked respondents to choose ("if you had to choose") between a "clean environment" and a "strong economy" – a false opposition both rhetorically and economically, but the responses featured some interesting details. Fully 53% answered "clean environment" over "strong economy" (31%) – and that was a 10% increase over the 2015 responses. (Note: Republican respondents preferred "strong economy" by 61%; Democrats "clean environment" by 72%.)

Other questions elicited fairly predictable responses: 82% said Austin has "an affordability problem," and 77% said Austin's "cost of living is too high." (Only 52% thought the cost of city government is too high.) Fifty-five percent supported a substantial increase in the housing supply (15,000/year over the next 10 years); that support jumped to 61% after a series of questions "informing" respondents that increasing supply would reduce housing costs. One glaring anomaly: 59% opposed "lowering the cost of building by reducing the amount of parking for businesses ... served by public transportation." The survey suggests folks support greater housing supply, greater density, greater building heights – but please don't take away those parking spaces.

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