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Why Does Austin Need a Comprehensive Housing Plan?

Miguel Guitierrez Jr./KUT
A housing meeting on March 30, 2016. The city's seeking input on a comprehensive housing plan, holding public input sessions across all 10 Austin City Council Districts.

City leaders are working to develop Austin’s first-ever housing plan. So, why does the city need one?

When it comes to growth, Austin does a lot of planning. There’s Imagine Austin, a comprehensive 30-year vision for the city’s future. Stemming from that is CodeNEXT, an effort to revise the city’s land development code.

But some say we need another plan specifically focused on housing.

“A lot of other cities have housing plans that guide their investments as well as promote more affordable housing to address affordability,” says Jonathan Tomko with the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office.

The office is hosting a series of public meetings across all 10 city council districts. The goal is to develop a plan that provides more housing options across all income levels.

“If there are gaps at other income sectors as far as affordability, then it can actually pinch the market in other places,” Tomko says. “So higher-income folks may be constrained. That can cause gaps for other folks that may be limited in their choices as far as housing.”

So, what makes this plan any different than existing regulations? While initiatives like CODENext focus on overall land use, Tomko says, it’s time to take a closer look at how that development impacts housing. He says all of these issues feed into each other.

“Things like parking are a great example,” he says. “If more land is being used for parking, that can actually increase the cost of housing, but it can also impact the city’s fiscal condition. Cars don’t pay taxes  – people do – and that’s an important consideration. Are we building a city for cars or are we building a city for people?”

A lot of residents also mentioned the issue of public transportation. Whitney Bulna, who came to the District 2 housing meeting, says transit makes a big difference in where people can live.

“As soon as you step out of kind of the downtown area, public transportation becomes very sparse,” she said. “It’s really hard to find transportation that’s also accessible.”

Tomko says at this point, they’re gathering feedback and don’t have a rigid vision for what the plan will look like. But, he invites the public to weigh in at the next meeting on Saturday. His office will present a draft of the housing plan to the City Council Housing and Community Development Committee in June.

Syeda Hasan is a senior editor at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @syedareports.
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