The Austin City Council approved the strategic housing plan Thursday, though the document is now being called the strategic housing “blueprint.” It calls for the construction of 135,000 more housing units by 2025, with 60,000 of them being affordable.
Council members unanimously approved the first half of the document, which identifies the scope of Austin’s growing affordability crisis. District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair was the sole member to vote against the second half of the plan, which outlines tools and strategies the city could use to achieve its housing production goals. In particular, Troxclair took issue with a section that calls for lobbying the state Legislature to allow rent control in Austin.
While most everyone agrees that the city needs more affordable housing, several council members disagreed about the strategies outlining where it should go. The document calls for prioritizing new housing near transit and Imagine Austin corridors. Council Member Ora Houston unsuccessfully called for a delay on the vote, arguing the strategies could ramp up gentrification.
“I’m very afraid about not taking the time to look at what is occurring in this plan,” she said. “We will increase the amount of displacement for people who have been displaced already. Those who are still hanging on by their fingernails will be displaced.”
Council members also heard testimony from City Demographer Ryan Robinson, who expressed concerns that the plan is overly aspirational. He questioned whether the production goals were truly achievable.
“My basic intent is simply to point out that what we’re trying to do with this plan – and it’s an admirable plan, it’s a laudable plan – is reverse some really big market forces,” he said. “I’d love to see that happen… but I’m just not sure that we have the tools. I want to be a believer that we can create market-rate housing, that we can generate that in the right part of town, but I’m just not sure how we do that.”
Robinson said the plan appeared to be assuming a change in market forces that city leaders don’t have the power to control. He doubted whether Austin’s development community would really support building an oversupply of housing in order to draw down costs.
“In my opinion, no city out there has figured this out,” he said.
Mayor Steve Adler said he wasn’t ready to give up and perhaps Austin would be the first city to figure out how to counter this trend.
“I am not ready to admit defeat to gentrification,” he said. “I am not ready to admit that Austin has a future which is unescapably one where we lose the middle class.”