Public Notice: Housing Bubbles in the Air

Conjuring affordable housing from thin air

Public Notice

The City's Planning Commission chewed over the proposed Austin Strategic Housing Plan in a long session Tuesday night, and their discussion ran into the same brick wall that City Council hit their heads against last week, and will again next week: Look at the Plan's list of needs in Michael King's Council Watch column on p.12, and you'll note that the free market has indeed been producing enough housing – some 8,000 units a year – to supply households making the median income and above. But the problem is, that's pretty much all the free market builds, because that's where the profits are, and where the financing makes sense. So when the ASHP lists the need for 6,300 new units per year that are affordable for those making well below the median income ... that's just an aspirational goal, with no hint of a "Plan" to create them. And no one yet has such a plan.

One faction of the com­mis­sioners clearly favors deregulating the construction industry: Let builders build whatever they want, wherever they want, the argument goes, and we'll get enough housing stock that either prices will begin to fall or builders will start building more affordable projects when the high-end market is maxed out. As was detailed in an Austin American-Statesman article earlier this year, referenced by Com­mis­sioner James Shieh, Austin's recent building boom does indeed seem to have moved the needle on the supply side. And as vacancy rates have crept up a hair, prices and rents seem to have slowed their rate of increase. But at the same time, the rate of new construction starts has slowed even faster, waiting for the market to catch up, and move the needle back a bit in the other direction. So, surely as a pendulum, we'll see the relative buyer's market turn back to a seller's market. And mind you, that's all for market-rate units only. Mean­while, the only meager portion of those wished-for 6,300 new units a year that are affordable for families living on single salaries, in service jobs – teachers, bus drivers, waiters, Chronicle employees – come from direct government subsidy, or are wrung one-by-one from those very same development agreements that the deregulators decry as red tape.

Because sadly, market forces are never going to create deeply affordable housing – especially family housing. It just really can't be penciled out with conventional financing. City Council was forced to face that fact during the recent extended wrangling over the Grove at Shoal Creek, and again at Plaza Saltillo. But they seem fated to keep banging away at that wall.

Meanwhile, despite the hopelessness, CodeNEXT public outreach sessions continue for two more Sat­ur­days – April 1, noon-2pm at Westwood High School, 12400 Mellow Meadow; and April 8, 2-4pm at Anderson High, 8403 Mesa – before the code maps come out on April 18. Five more community open houses will be held after that, along with four more "topic talks" addressing Community Character, Affordability, Mobility, and Per­mitting. See the draft code, leave comments, or sign up for notifications at

Trespasser's Ball: The Westcave Preserve was established, in part, to protect the pool, grotto, canyon, and wilderness trails by evicting the increasingly frequent trespassers who hiked, skinny-dipped, camped, and "did trespasser-y things" in the area in the Sixties and Seventies. Now, the Preserve staff and board host "a throwback Tie Dye-Black Tie affair" to welcome and honor those early trespassers, many of whom became friends of the Preserve, and others who may have stories to tell about those early days in Westcave's human history. On Saturday, April 1, 5-9pm, the Trespasser's Ball will feature local food and beverages, a themed photo booth, hikes, a music-drum circle, a "confession booth" (recording interviews to be submitted to the Library of Congress' Story Corps project), and dancing to hits from the Sixties and Seventies. Westcave is at 24814 Hamilton Pool, in Round Mountain; see for more info.

Water Management: Long-Range and Short-Range

Water Forward is Austin Water's 100-year water plan for the area, trying to identify future needs, and strategies to get there. At a public workshop this week, the project team will outline the plan, and take input on the public's preferred strategies. Tuesday, April 4, 6-8pm at One Texas Center, Room 325, 505 Barton Springs. For more info, or to sign up for an eNewsletter, see Meanwhile ...

AW's Landscape Survival Tools Rebate program offers incentives for tools that can save water by keeping it on your yard, and protect your landscape from the summer weather that seems to have arrived a couple of months early. Compost, mulch, and ground aeration service can earn you rebates of up to $120; see for details and instructions, plus lots of other money-saving tips.

Central Health has been looking for a new president and chief executive officer since Patricia Young Brown retired at the end of 2016. The board of managers has narrowed it down to two candidates, and is hosting public "Meet the Candidates" sessions next week in the Central Health board room at 1111 E. Cesar Chavez. The public is invited not only to attend, but to submit a question in advance, to be asked at the meeting. Email questions to before noon on Friday, March 31. More info at

Monday, April 3, 4:30-6pm: Mike Geeslin (Austin), executive director of the Texas Dental Assoc., former Commissioner of Insurance for the Texas Dept. of Insurance.

Thursday, April 6, 4:30-6pm: Vanetta Abdellatif (Portland, Ore.), executive director for Integrated Clinical Services with the Multnomah County Health Dept., which contains Oregon's largest Federally Qualified Health Center.

Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors, and other useful grist to nbarbaro at

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