Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Austin's Affordability Conundrum

Guest blogger Paul Hilgers (ESSENTIAL 1987) with a look at affordability in advance of Leadership Austin's December 18 ENGAGE breakfast on the same topic. Paul is CEO at the Austin Board of REALTORS®.

It's an exciting time to live in Austin. Our economy and our housing market are stronger than ever, fueled by new jobs and new residents... 150 people each day, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce. However, every rose has its thorns and, for Austin, that thorn has become decreasing housing affordability requiring decisive and positive action.

Austin is quickly becoming one of the most expensive housing markets in Texas. If that trend continues, there will be much less opportunity of homeownership for Austinites who fill our workforce needs and maintain the diversity of our city. One key factor in responding to this challenge is the impending overhaul of the City of Austin's Land Development Code. We must tackle that challenge in a way that fits with Austin's vision and makes development more practical and less costly.

Currently, Austin's Land Development Code is a complicated set of rules and regulations that are notoriously difficult to navigate and interpreted inconsistently. As a result, the LDC creates uncertainty in the development process and takes significantly more time and fees to build a new home in Austin than it does in other Texas cities. In theory, that is intended to prevent development that falls outside of the city’s growth plan. In practice, the inefficiencies of the code work to unnecessarily delay development that is good for communities and cause the cost of homeownership to rise.

The Austin Board of REALTORS® advocates for a development process that is efficient, consistent and does not pose ineffective barriers to healthy and controlled growth. The code should be condensed to have less negotiated solutions to individual problems and more consistent application of agreed upon planning principles. With a more streamlined product, the Planning, Development and Review Department will be more efficient and thus able to expedite their review of applications and bring down the overall cost of development.

In addition, the new Land Development Code should have a framework that is supported by our community and designed to meet its future needs, protecting the credibility of Austin's neighborhoods and encouraging density where it's needed to create a more balanced housing market.

That approach is clearly outlined by the Imagine Austin plan, which puts forth a vision of Austin that is more compact and connected. Policymakers agree that Austin must begin changing development patterns now in order to make progress toward the goals of Imagine Austin over the next several years.

As a stakeholder in the revision of the City's Land Development Code, the Austin Board of REALTORS® will be engaged in the process, and I encourage you to do the same by getting involved with the City's CodeNext initiative. Let’s ensure that Austin remains a place that residents of all types can call home.

NOTE: The opinions of Leadership Austin alumni, faculty members, and guest bloggers are their own, and do not represent an official position of the organization.

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