April, 2012

Austin faces many competing goals as it moves toward adoption of its new plan, Imagine Austin. The plan advances a vision for the city that tries to reconcile several conflicting impulses at once. On the one hand, it articulates a vision of a city made up of a set of “complete communities,” where residents can find a range of housing types and prices, access services and meet daily needs, and commute to work without travelling far. These goals build on recent city initiatives aimed at encouraging greater use of transit, through land use policies that will encourage development close to transit stops. Strategies include designation of “core transit corridors,” of “vertical mixed-use zones” along commercial corridors, and creation of plans for station areas along the city’s new commuter rail line. In recent years, the city’s housing department has also established goals, based on a comprehensive study of the local housing market. This study identified a shortage of 38,000 units of rental housing affordable to low-income residents and found the crisis most acute for the lowest income residents. It also found a shortage of homes priced below $240,000 and attributed this, in part, to a lack of condominiums and townhouses for sale. Yet at the same time, the plan, and the city’s efforts to move forward on housing goals, must grapple with the concerns of residents of existing communities about the effects of growth on their neighborhoods. These concerns are embodied in the 48 adopted neighborhood plans covering the central core of the city. The city’s strong coalition of neighborhood associations is pushing back against the plan, based on fears that growth that will threaten the character of their neighborhoods and may result in rising property values, yielding property taxes unaffordable to current residents. (See map 1: Neighborhood Planning Areas) Austin must develop strategies that will allow it to channel growth in ways that will support environmental and public health goals, while also respecting the culture and character of existing communities. It also means ensuring that existing residents are not priced out through explicit attention to preservation of existing affordable housing—both subsidized and unsubsidized. A premise for this project is the idea that existing central neighborhoods, particularly areas where new transit lines are likely to be introduced, are already home to many low-income households. Most of these low-income residents live in unsubsidized rental housing, whose rents are low due to the age and condition of the building, rather than to public subsidies. This makes them particularly susceptible to change as public investment increases the value of land along transit lines. We wondered, how might current planning efforts integrate existing apartments into plans, while ensuring that they remain affordable to current residents?

Creating Inclusive Corridors: Austin's Airport Boulevard cover

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