April 15, 2022 10:00am

Austin's housing and affordability poll strikes a nerve

Power Poll members divided over how to address housing

Photo of Andrea Zelinski
Austin, TX Correspondent
 

Power Poll Austin members are split over how to address housing and affordability in the rapidly growing city.

According to the April Power Poll, the majority of Power Poll members signaled a desire to squeeze more homes into neighborhoods by building density or insist developers should provide more affordable housing units. However, nearly one-third of members offered their own ideas for what should—or should not—happen.

“Allowing people to live in cheaper suburbs with a reasonable commute is the only real solution. Trying to make expensive real estate artificially affordable never works,” said one Power Poll member.

“The city needs to provide funds. It's not a developer issue to be shouldered alone,” said another.

“A state/city-wide ‘move’ tax on new arrivals would certainly slow things down—akin to a developer paying an “impact fee” for utilities. Wanna move to Austin? Pay a tax first of $25,000,” wrote a third.

When presented with an example of what actions could be taken to support affordability in developing the former Austin American-Statesman property, half of all respondents agreed: the city council should require the developer to more than double the percentage of proposed affordable housing for the project before moving it forward.

More than 20 percent of Power Poll members offered their own proposals to that situation, too.

In other results, two-thirds of Power Poll members won’t pick a side in the great Austin v San Antonio taco debate, rekindled during SXSW by “The Mandalorian” actor Pedro Pascal.

Of those who did choose a favorite, Austin’s tacos reigned supreme. However, Austin taco loyalists were overtaken by Power Poll members who attest that both cities’ have "geat" tacos.

Here’s a breakdown of this month’s poll results.

This survey was sent to 585 Power Poll members in the Austin area, where 110 members responded for a response rate of 18.8%. The Power Poll is not a scientific poll, but a glimpse into the minds of those who wield influence and power in Austin. This includes public officials, CEOs, small business owners, community activists, restaurant owners and others. The Power Poll is decidedly non-partisan.

Power Poll questions powerful leaders in approximately three dozen cities across the United States. Power Poll members share their opinions about pressing issues in their communities, giving the public a larger glimpse into what the people who run our cities are truly thinking. Power Poll aims to take similar surveys in the top 300 cities in the United States.

CONTEXT

Austin housing ranked as the top issue Power Poll members said they want mayoral candidates to focus on as they approach the November election. That should be of no surprise as some 180 people move to Austin daily and home prices and rents continue to climb.

The Austin Board of Realtors reported this week that the median price for a residential home in March was $521,100. That’s a far cry from a decade ago when the typical Austin home sold for under $200,000, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Five years ago, the median sales price was less than $300,000.

Power Poll Austin members agree that housing and affordability are major issues in our community. That agreement doesn’t make addressing them easy. Members who left comments about “other” solutions they’d like to see were interested in streamlining costly and time-consuming permitting and inspection processes, offering better transportation options further from the city center, or letting the market take its course. While some Power Poll members favored increased density, others opposed it or said there’s too much opposition to try to pass a massive rezoning initiative.

Power Poll members who responded they wanted to see “other” options offered their own. Here’s what some Power Poll members had to say:

-“Increased density in existing neighborhoods will continue to run into a buzz saw of opposition. Instead, the city needs to look hard at big parcels that can be whole new subdivisions and pave the way for the development process to be easier.”

- “The ‘allow developers to pay a penalty’ option is currently in place with no positive impact. It shouldn't be an option at all at this stage. The ‘allow greater density’ option is appropriate to some neighborhoods but not all, and the city seems to take an ‘all or nothing’ approach, so I am against that option for the destruction it would wreak in many areas. The only thing that really stands out to me is that if the city REALLY means it, they should require developers to incorporate affordable housing into their developments.”

-“A major overhaul of the land-use code that also removes the ability for neighborhoods to block density and section 8 housing. Additionally, this code must be more comprehensive to spur transit connections, end food deserts, etc. This has to be a comprehensive solution not be treated as a one-off problem.”

-"The city needs to provide funds. It's not a developer issue to be shouldered alone.”

In a specific example, Endeavor Real Estate Group wants to develop 1,400 new housing units, along with office space and a hotel, at the lakefront property formerly used by the Austin American-Statesman. More than half of Power Poll members indicated they would like to see the City Council require 10% of rental units and 5% of for-sale homes at the development be priced as affordable housing. Currently, the developer is offering to make 4% of units of affordable housing.

Of those who responded they wanted to see “other” options, here’s what they suggested:

-“I have yet to see a sustainable affordable housing plan that has truly worked to make Austin more affordable. People with contacts or means always find 'ways around' rules like this.”

-"Instead of including affordable housing in a luxury area, the developer should be required to build a certain number of affordable single-family homes elsewhere.”

-"This is not the place for affordable housing. My hunch is that anyone who obtains one of the small number of affordable units at this prime space will have pulled strings/plan to use the property for something other than housing.”

It is unclear when the development and a negotiated proposal for affordable housing units will come again before the council.

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