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Austinites can speak out on proposed land rule changes. Here's what you need to know.

A white two-story modern home next to a one-story ranch house.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
The city is trying to rewrite rules about what can be built and where in Austin.

By now, most homeowners should have received a lavender notice in the mail with details about three public hearings on proposed changes to the city’s land rules.

The rules dictate what can be built and where, and how tall and wide a structure can be.

But the current rules have been called barriers to affordable housing. As Austin grapples with rising costs and stagnant pay, city leaders see a pressing need for changes.

And that's not an easy feat.

The city has tried to rewrite its land rules before. Sweeping changes known as CodeNEXT died in 2022 when a Travis County judge ruled Austin had broken state rules by failing to notify property owners of potential changes to the zoning of nearby land.

That isn’t going to happen this time around, Mayor Kirk Watson said.

Landowners have been given proper notice, he said, and instead of rewriting the entire land code, the council is going about changes piecemeal. This will be done in a series of phases.

“We’re attempting to address specific barriers to additional housing,” he wrote in a newsletter last week. “Additionally, and importantly, we’re working to provide the public ample notice about upcoming hearings and Council action, something that was lacking the last time. The process changes are the direct result of public feedback during CodeNext.”

This week, residents will get their first chance to make their voices heard on the proposed changes.

What rules could change?

The proposed changes include:

  • increasing the number of homes — including tiny homes and RVs — allowed on a single piece of land from two to three; 
  • revising rules that apply to a property with two homes; and
  • removing restrictions on the number of unrelated adults living in a home.

Watson said the goal is to create more housing options for all Austin residents.
“We want a city where everyone can make a home, stay in that home and be a part of our community,” he said. “We need our city to be able to realize the value, the diversity, the bubbling place that comes from a mix of distinctive people from all parts of life, all sorts of jobs, all variations of characters and creators.”

A separate initiative to be included in a later phase would allow people to live in RVs in more places across the city. The city already allows residents to store RVs on their land. The proposed rule would allow people to hook up utilities to an RV so they could live in it without it being in a mobile home park, campground or other designated area.

Council Member Leslie Pool, who sponsored the initiative, said city staff need more time to understand how the change would fit within state law.

How would the rules impact residents?

Pool is helping lead the initiative, called Home Options for Middle-income Empowerment, or HOME.

She said if lot sizes are reduced and the number of properties allowed on a piece of land is increased, more tiny homes, cottage courts and row houses could be built. She hopes the changes remove barriers to affordable housing and create more options for families.

She said the changes could also allow for multigenerational living, help residents establish another revenue source by renting out a property and bring down the cost of homes by diversifying and increasing the housing stock.

She added that these rules would not supersede HOA or deed restrictions.

The HOME initiative is "targeted for middle income because that is most people in Austin,” Pool said.

Additionally, the changes could allow the city to build housing in neighborhoods within a short walk of bus routes and the pending Project Connect light rail.

Does changing land rules actually impact affordability?

Critics of the changes have said they would harm the character of their neighborhoods and increase property values, thus pushing longstanding residents out of their homes.

Many also argue building more housing does not lower the costs.

A Pew research study, however, found that reducing minimum lot sizes has “significantly increased the availability of moderately-priced, family-size homes” and did not displace residents, including people of color.

“Ultimately, allowing enough housing for everyone enabled affordability and reduced displacement pressures,” the study states.

Pool said these changes are a step in the right direction in helping to make living in Austin more attainable for young families and middle-income earners.

“But all of this takes time,” she said. “Nothing is going to happen overnight.”

When and where are these public hearings?

Residents will get a few chances over the next several months to make their voices heard about the proposed changes. Pool said she expects to hear from both sides.

“The majority in the city are supportive,” she said. “There are a few voices [that are not]. We will hear them at each of the three hearings, and that is great. I hope we do.”

Each of the public hearings will be held at Austin City Hall:

  • Oct. 26 at 2 p.m. - Joint Planning Commission and City Council meeting 
  • Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. - Planning Commission meeting 
  • Dec. 7 at 10 a.m. - City Council meeting 

Residents must register to speak at the hearings. To learn more, including when speaker registration opens and closes, visit the How to Participate website.

City officials say the first round of changes could be adopted as soon as December.

Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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