Reliably Austin
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Austin continues to fall short of its affordable housing goals

A housing complex under construction
Ivy Fowler
/
KUT News
Builders work on a Northwest Austin apartment complex, which is scheduled to open to renters this year. More than half of the 116 apartments will be rented to people earning less than $49,000 a year.

Lee esta historia en español

Austin is far from its goal of constructing tens of thousands of homes affordable to people earning low incomes, according to a new report.

Co-authored by the City of Austin and the nonprofit HousingWorks Austin, the report looks at how close Austin has come to achieving goals set by elected officials in 2017 as part of the city’s first-ever housing plan.

The plan includes a list of aggressive housing targets meant to accommodate the city’s growing population. Most notably it encourages developers to build 135,000 new housing units over 10 years, with about half of these affordable for people earning no more than $65,000 a year. These homes should be built throughout the city, but especially in parts of West Austin, where housing tends to be more expensive.

But five years into the decade-long plan, the city (once again) is falling short of its goals. Developers have built just under 11,000 homes affordable to people earning low incomes, roughly a third of the number of homes the city hoped to have built by the end of 2022. (Because of a data lag, this latest report looks at numbers through 2022.)

“Creating new income-restricted affordable housing … remains a challenge for our city,” Awais Azhar, deputy director of HousingWorks Austin, told KUT.

One of the biggest challenges has been building houses that people earning some of the lowest incomes can afford. In 2017, officials hoped developers would spend the next decade building 20,000 homes that people earning less than $25,000 could afford.

But five years in, developers have built 363 units, just under 2% of the city’s decade-long goal.

One of the issues, developers say, is securing enough money to subsidize this kind of housing. Typically, people living in income-restricted housing pay no more than a third of their income toward rent; the lower their income, the lower their rent payment. Developers need to supplement that loss by also housing renters who can afford to pay the full rent.

“If you have a mortgage payment that is $1,000 a month but you're only collecting $400 from your tenant, the numbers don’t work,” said Megan Lasch, who owns O-SDA Industries, a real estate firm that works on affordable housing projects in Texas. “You have to include other income types … because you’re forgoing so much rent.”

Then there’s where this housing gets built. Despite the hope that developers would build low-income housing throughout the city, few homes have been built in some of Austin’s most expensive areas. In District 10, which includes West Austin neighborhoods such as Tarrytown, the city hoped developers would build 4,228 homes affordable to people earning low incomes by the end of 2022. Instead, just 31 homes were built.

This number doesn’t necessarily surprise affordable housing developers, who have long sought land in West Austin on which to build.

“There’s just not a lot of available sites,” Walter Moreau, who runs Foundation Communities, said. “That sounds like an excuse, but if a single-family subdivision is all built with houses, there’s really no place to build an apartment.”

What Austin seems to be doing well is preserving existing low-income housing. The city estimates that in the past five years, 5,725 affordable homes have been saved from demolition or extensive remodel — more than half of the city’s 10-year goal.

If you found this reporting valuable, please consider making a donation to support it. Your gift pays for everything you find on KUT.org. Thanks for donating today.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. Got a tip? Email her at audrey@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
Related Content