Public Notice: Getting to Affordability

Council sweats the small stuff

Public Notice: Getting to Affordability

Despite some Council members' obvious disdain for the current round of talks about the Land Development Code rewrite, in their impatience to get on with the work (see "City Council: Getting It All Planned Out," Apr. 12), it's obvious that there's some very real work being done right now, that Council has failed to do in its past four years of dithering. Two important points came out at Tues­day's work session, for instance, which are presumably being absorbed by City Manager Spencer Cronk as "Council direction" regarding the new code:

Mayor Steve Adler's fairly flat statement that all new entitlements (such as upzonings) will be tied to community benefits: most specifically affordable housing, when possible. That dovetails nicely with CM Greg Casar's "Affordability Unlocked" proposal – which depends on those entitlements as incentives for developers to participate – but may not sit well with density fans who'd like to see more of those entitlements "by right," or with no strings attached.

CM Ann Kitchen's repeated reminder that the oft-cited goal in the Strategic Housing Blueprint of 135,000 new housing units over the next 10 years also includes the goal that 60,000 of those units be affordable to those earning below 60% of the median family income. That's 44% of all the new housing that's built, and it's housing that the market by itself will not build.

CodeNEXT Draft 3 was forecast to produce just 6,000 such units – just 10% of the stated goal – so that wasn't going to cut it. Nor is it entirely clear how to do better with a new draft. Take for instance ECHO's Ann Howard, in this week's feature story on the land code revision, saying that what her clients need is code changes that incentivize housing at well below market rates, for residents at less than 50% or even 30% of MFI. Some may read that as, "Let's just get on with the upzonings," but as I'm sure Ms. Howard knows, and perhaps the majority of Council is beginning to acknowledge, there is no amount of upzoning that's going to produce 30% MFI housing. Housing that we need. That we have the tools to create. If, and only if, we create the conditions, thoughtfully, so that it gets built.

We only get one chance a generation to get this right. Let's not fuck it up.

Earth Week

Earth Day isn't until April 22 – marking the 50th such celebration of "the birth of the modern environmental movement" in 1970 – but Earth Day Austin comes a week early this year. Austin's largest Earth Day event takes place this Saturday, April 13, noon-6pm at Huston-Tillotson University, 900 Chicon. There's oh-so-much more going on than I can list, but: Eco Pitch Competition (3pm); Save Red Bluff Community Dialogue (1:30pm); Sustainable Living Showcase; Climate Action Tent includes a Sierra Club presentation on the Green New Deal (2pm); Mobility Ecosystem includes bike giveaways by Yellow Bike Project; Community Justice Hub has Six Square presenting Six Square Miles of History (3pm); Movement and Wellness Zone includes Freedom and Healing through Hip Hop Music (5pm); Eco Discovery Zone has a mobile planetarium, a butterfly walkthrough, beehives, and a chance to build a solar car; Water Nexus Tent includes How to Install an Urban Rainwater Harvesting System (3pm); AIA Austin will set up Box City, a miniature grid of Downtown Austin on which participants can "recreate iconic buildings of downtown, using recycled boxes and crafting materials"... and see for more.

Earlier that same day, the annual free East Austin Garden Fair, hosted by Texas A&M and Travis County Master Gardeners, offers free plants, seeds, publications, demos and DIY activities such as building a rain barrel, beekeeping, raising chickens, and more, Sat., April 13, 9am-2pm at Parque Zaragoza, 2608 E. Gonzales St. There's also the Soil Kitchen, a service of the city's Brownfields Revitalization Office, offering free, anonymous soil sampling for gardeners; drop off quart-size zip-sealed bags at Parque Zaragoza during the event, or Sun., April 14, 9am-noon, and look up results online by mid-May; see for details.

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A year ago, the last CodeNEXT draft was "unworkable." What's changed?

Nick Barbaro, April 19, 2019

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