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Years ago, Austin set affordable housing goals. The city is far from accomplishing them.

Habitat for Humanity workers build the first-ever "net zero" home in Austin in 2018.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Habitat for Humanity workers help build a home in East Austin in 2018.

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Austin is nowhere near achieving goals it set to build thousands of homes affordable to people earning low incomes, according to a new report.

In 2017, Austin adopted its first-ever housing plan, which included a set of aggressive targets: build 135,000 new housing units over the next decade, with about half of these affordable for families earning roughly $60,000 a year. This includes both income-restricted housing, which is often built and managed by nonprofits and public agencies, and market-rate homes.

These homes should be built throughout the city, council members and staff agreed, particularly in West Austin where little new development occurs — especially the development of housing people with low incomes can afford.

Five years after the plan was adopted, that is not happening. According to a report published by the City of Austin and the nonprofit HousingWorks Austin, builders have created roughly 8,000 affordable homes, less than a quarter of the city’s overall goal.

“It’s going to take a massive amount of building to catch up,” Nora Linares-Moeller, executive director of HousingWorks Austin, said.

One goal the city is on track to meet, however, is its goal of building middle-income housing, or housing people earning at or above the median income can afford. (This year, the median income for a family of four in Travis County hit $110,300.)

While builders are starting a lot of new homes in the Austin area, a large demand for housing has kept prices high. Without government intervention, many of these new homes will not be affordable to people earning low incomes.

Austin is also failing to encourage developers to build affordable housing in parts of the city that historically haven’t had it. When council members approved this plan years ago, they said Districts 6, 8 and 10 should carry the burden of new affordable housing; residents in these districts, which lie mostly west of MoPac, have some of the highest incomes in the city.

But little housing that people with low incomes can afford is getting built in this part of town. Developers in District 10, for example, built 31 affordable homes in the past four years — a far cry from the 8,456 units the city hoped would be completed by 2028. The city and HousingWorks estimates that 46 more homes are currently under construction.

One of the issues, said Foundation Communities Director Walter Moreau, is that a lot of West Austin is subject to strict building rules because of environmental protections adopted by the city over the years.

“A 10-acre site of land might only allow an acre of buildable area,” he said.

Moreau said that while communities across Austin often oppose affordable housing in their neighborhoods, the high price of land could be another reason why cheaper housing isn’t being built in West Austin. High prices signal a large demand from people who want to live there and a low supply of homes.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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