Public Notice: People’s Housing Justice
What Council can do that’s not CodeNEXT
There was an interesting exchange at the last joint work session of the two land use commissions working on the CodeNEXT land use rewrite. Following a presentation on income-restricted (i.e., publicly subsidized) Affordable Housing, Planning Commissioner David King asked the lead consultant about "small-a" affordable housing: "Is there anything in here that's going to help the middle class?"
Replied Ian Carlton, project director with ECONorthwest: "The goal in our market-based system – that is what our housing system is here in the United States – the way we deal with this is that we deliver as many market-rate units to the top income strata as we possibly can at any time, and over time, as those become older, become more obsolete over time, they become the affordable housing of tomorrow. And the development of new units will continue to be for these two upper and lower strata, the income-restricted units and the higher-end units, if things continue as they are today in our market-based system. But that middle portion is served by housing that has moved from its first owner to its second owner."
There you have the gist of it: In our market-based system, "we deliver as many market-rate units to the top income strata as we possibly can." That's the goal, and that's the inevitable reality. And until those new units become "obsolete over time," the only way to have more affordable market-rate housing is to preserve the existing stock of used housing. That's what Carlton left unsaid in that last sentence: If that older housing is being torn down to make way for the new units, "that middle portion" – of citizenry squeezed by housing costs – is no longer being served.
So CodeNEXT can do a little around the margins to improve small-a affordability, by helping to retain existing residents and existing housing stock, but it's not going to reverse the tide of market forces, as some hope, nor convince the market to start building housing for the lower middle class, as others fantasize. And what it can do – cut development costs by streamlining code language and procedures – seems lost in a morass of redundancies, errors, and ambiguities.
If Council wants to really help affordability, though, they have some other initiatives to turn to, while they put CodeNEXT back in the hopper for further review and correction: initiatives that might be much easier to put into effect, and with much more direct impact. While they've flogged the code process through a series of silly deadlines, Council has been largely sitting on a citizen-initiated set of resolutions called the People's Plan, aimed at stemming displacement, and beefing up the city's subsidies of (large-A) Affordable Housing (see "Affordable Housing With CodeNEXT," April 13, and "Public Notice," March 9). That's pushed by the "anti-CodeNEXT" Community Not Commodity, but just last week, three "pro-CodeNEXT" council members came out with their own version of the same thing, the Housing Justice Agenda, and while there are large differences, there are also enough similarities that a truly deliberative body ought to be able to work something out, and they ought to be smart enough to see that this, not the code process, is where they should be moving with urgency.
As for CodeNEXT, here's a simple two-step Council directive that might push the timetable back a month now, but will save a lot of time and heartache down the line:
• Direct staff to create a fourth draft, cleaning up the language and relatively straightforward corrections, and incorporating feedback from the land use commissions;
• Separate the mapping and text, and agree to pass the text if the fourth draft is approved, but not put it into effect until the mapping process is completed, because it's nowhere near ready.
The next joint land use commission work session on Wednesday, April 18, will focus on mapping; commissioners will probably get to ask one question each on the subject. [Ed. note: this date has been corrected; the original copy said April 17.]
The annual East Austin Garden Fair is spearheaded by Travis County Master Gardeners and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, along with the city Parks & Recreation Dept.: Expect free plants, garden books, magazines, seed catalogs, buckets, and other materials, along with various DIY and demonstration activities on everything from building a rain barrel, to caring for houseplants, to backyard chickens and beekeeping. Plus there's the Soil Kitchen – free soil screening for food gardeners who bring a 2-cup soil sample in a quart-size Ziploc bag; see details at www.austintexas.gov/soilkitchen. It's this Saturday, April 14, at Parque Zaragoza Rec Center, 2608 Gonzales. www.tcmastergardeners.org.
Love Your Pet Resource Fair is put together by the Austin Animal Services office to introduce residents – especially those in 78702 – to a variety of pet-related community resources available to the public, such as free microchips, ID tags, adoptions, vaccines, and animal care advice. The event is this Sunday, April 15, from 2-4pm at the Turner-Roberts Rec Center, 7201 Colony Loop Dr., and it comes with an appearance by the APL's Mobile Library. For more, see library.austintexas.gov/event/love-your-pet-resource-fair-460917.
The city at last has design plans for the Nash Hernandez Building at Festival Beach, which has sat empty and unused for seven years now while PARD, APD, and Public Works tried to figure out plans and funding for a joint-use facility. Come see the results at a community presentation this Saturday, April 14, 10am-noon at Metz Rec Center, 2407 Canterbury.
The city will host Aquatic Hiring Day events at two East Austin Rec Centers on Saturday, April 7: 11am-1pm at Turner Roberts Rec Center, 7201 Colony Loop Dr., and 2-4pm at Givens Rec Center, 3811 E. 12th. Lifeguards, pool attendants, swim instructors, or swim coaches, all must be at least 16 years old, and start at $12 to $13.84/hr.