As we go to press, the city has just released the draft Implementation Plan for the first Austin Strategic Housing Blueprint, a vision passed by City Council earlier this year. The Blueprint had set out five core "community values," and also 63 total policy and program strategies that the city should seek to implement within 10 years. The Implementation Plan, with its accompanying Atlas of Existing and Historical Conditions, is intended to "establish specific action steps, short-term priorities, and geographically specific goals for meeting Austin's housing needs."
The drafters say they've addressed all 63 of those Council desires, and that the final strategy will also incorporate displacement mitigation recommendations from at least seven other recent studies, including the recent UT Gentrification Study and the East Austin "People's Plan."
There's a whole lot to dig into here, but here's a very brief overview. The 152-page plan is organized by the Blueprint's five Community Values:
• Prevent households from being priced out of Austin
• Foster equitable, integrated, and diverse communities
• Invest in housing for those most in need
• Create new and affordable housing choices for all Austinites in all parts of Austin
• Help Austinites reduce household costs
But it seems likely that the sharpest scrutiny will fall on the fourth of the values – creating new and affordable housing choices – because the varying strategies for getting there are what has jammed up the process so far. And as with each of the community values, there's a healthy sub-menu of specific objectives: 18 in all in this case.
You can see the full list below, but suffice to say that there's probably something to like for just about everyone, and maybe not too many red flags for anyone. Urbanists will cheer for smaller lots, relaxed regulations on micro-units, co-ops, ADUs, parking, and more. Neighborhood preservationists can be cheered that all of these recommendations seem well modulated – the drafters seem to believe they can achieve our goals by turning the control knobs up and down, without doing away with controls altogether. And hopefully everyone can get behind some common-sense goals that tend to get lost in the growth debate: streamline code and permitting processes; track and manage our existing affordable housing programs better; figure out how to extend property tax exemptions to renters as well as homeowners, and how to make developments pay for the affordable housing they create the need for (i.e., "linkage fees").
Does your business or institution produce a lot of waste, byproducts, or scrap materials? See if someone has a use for them at the fourth annual [Re]Verse Pitch Competition, now taking applications for the pitch events in February-April that will help local entrepreneurs develop new business ideas based on taking usable materials out of the waste stream. Your spent yeast could be someone else's dog food. Apply by Dec. 7 at www.reversepitch.org.
Local author and health care advisor Janis Powers will be speaking about her new book, Health Care: Meet the American Dream – finally solving the longstanding conundrum over funding health care – next Wed., Nov. 28, at 7pm at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar. Powers will also be presenting at South by Southwest in March; SXSW has donated a badge to be raffled off, and will also stream the presentation on Facebook Live.
Transportation Planning continues: Capital Metro's Community Conversations continue, gathering feedback on their Project Connect long-range transit plan while Austin Transportation Department staff present and discuss their own Austin Strategic Mobility Plan – presumably including its just-released draft maps showing "Austin's mobility vision for the next 20+ years." This week, they're in Council District 2: Mon., Nov. 26, 6-8pm at Mendez Middle School, 5106 Village Square. See more on the two plans at www.capmetro.org/projectconnect, and www.austintexas.gov/asmp.
Giving Bluesday is Anthropos Arts' annual celebration of Giving Tuesday – a night of music, food, and revelry to benefit this fine group that provides music education and mentoring to at-risk youth. Tue., Nov. 27, 5:30-9pm at Antone's Nightclub, 305 E. Fifth.
1: Adopt Affordable Housing goals to guide policy. This takes as a baseline the Blueprint's goal of providing 60,000 housing units affordable to households making under about $65,000 a year (80% of the median family income), and balances four goals: that affordable housing be
• In areas rated as High Opportunity (that is, desirable)
• In areas rated as High Displacement Risk
• Near high-frequency transit and Imagine Austin centers and corridors
• Geographically dispersed throughout the city
Based on those factors, the plan recommends a specific set of goals for each Council District – a level of specificity that's been sorely lacking thus far in a debate where "we need immeasurably more housing everywhere" has often come across as "we can't leave anything the same anywhere."
2: Implement a consistent density bonus program for Imagine Austin Activity Centers and Corridors.
3: Streamline City Codes and permitting processes.
4: Provide additional funding to monitor Austin's Affordable Housing investments.
5: Better utilize land for affordable housing by easing regulations on projects that include significant amounts of affordable housing.
6: Revise the S.M.A.R.T. Housing Program to lengthen the affordability period and to better balance developer benefits with unit construction.
7: Implement a density bonus program for mid-density housing and reduce parking requirements within a quarter-mile of high-capacity transit corridors.
8: Allow the development of smaller houses on smaller lots.
9: Create pre-approved standard plans for small infill development.
10: Relax regulations on internal and external Accessory Dwelling Units, including Code changes to permit ADUs throughout traditional single-family and urban core neighborhoods.
11: Relax regulations on more affordable housing products – micro-units of 125-700 square feet.
12: Relax regulations on housing cooperatives.
13: Use Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) to provide a range of affordability.
14: Increase housing diversity in new subdivisions.
15: Support legislation to create a Multifamily Property Tax Exemption program to balance the homestead exemption.
16: Complete an affordable housing Nexus study to determine the impact of various kinds of development on the housing market, and perhaps establish "linkage fees" that developments would pay into an affordable housing fund.
17: Consider Building and Fire Code modifications to allow six stories of wood frame construction instead of five.
18: Develop a "real-time" database of available affordable housing units, services, resources, and incentives.
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