Current trends indicate that Austin’s population is forecasted to grow by about 2% per year, and the region’s population is forecasted to grow by about 3.4% per year.1 We aspire to be a city where people can live close to where they work, and where people who work here can afford to live here. Since a large proportion of the region’s jobs continue to be located within the Austin city limits, the City Council affirmed, in its adoption of the Strategic Housing Blueprint, that Austin should accommodate its fair share of forecasted housing needs. Currently, there has not been enough housing built to enable people of all incomes who work in Austin to be able to afford to live in Austin.
The Blueprint sets a policy to create 135,000 additional housing units over 10 years to better match the number of housing units with the number of jobs in Austin and provide for the City’s fair share of housing needs. The Blueprint also speaks to preserving existing affordable housing units, which is an important strategy in the City Council’s policy direction for the Land Development Code Revision (pg. 18-19) so that people of all incomes who work in Austin have an opportunity to live in Austin. As more people live closer to where they work, we are better able to manage traffic congestion and its environmental impacts through reduced commutes.
In establishing the Blueprint’s 135,000 additional housing unit goal, staff considered several data points, including:
Information from the City Demographer that identified a need for approximately 75,000 to 85,000 housing units;
Further research showing that from 2005 to 2015, 53% of the region’s jobs were created within Austin, but only 41% of the region’s housing units were created within the city;2
Census data showing that more than 50% of the people who work in Austin live outside the city limits;3 and
Recent housing market analysis showing that lack of affordability is a key reason that people who work in Austin might live elsewhere.4
Following deliberations on the Blueprint, the City Council adopted the 135,000 housing unit goal in order to proactively address recent suburbanization trends that are inconsistent with the Imagine Austin vision of being a community that is affordable and accessible to all.
In order to realize our goal to create – or “yield” – 135,000 additional housing units, our own urban planners and project consultants agree that we should develop a multiplier of that goal, also known as “capacity.” This is because what actually will be built on a piece of land is uncertain and depends on a variety of factors. Some land remains undeveloped or underdeveloped because of owner preferences and/or due to the land’s location or restrictions on how it can be developed. Based on this understanding, the City Council’s adopted policy direction (pg. 5) set a housing capacity of three times the Blueprint’s housing unit goal which is about 405,000 housing units (135,000 units x 3 = 405,000 units).
While a variety of market circumstances plays a role in housing production, revisions to the Land Development Code will include a housing capacity of 405,000 units which can help increase the number and variety of housing choices. This housing capacity could also increase the likelihood of yielding the Blueprint goal of 135,000 additional housing units.
What happens to existing single-family homes in a new transition area?
August 7, 2019
*UPDATE FORTHCOMING -- WEEK OF 9/16/19
As regulations change over time, it’s common for existing uses to not fully comply with all of the rules that new development would have to meet. So what happens to existing single family homes when development rules change?
Many older homes in Austin, for example, exceed the limits placed on the size and scale of single-family houses allowed under by the 2006 “McMansion” ordinance or are located closer to the street than what is permitted under current setback requirements. These deviations, commonly called “nonconformity” or “noncompliance,” don’t impact the rights of homeowners to maintain their existing homes. They do, however, limit the potential for expanding or altering the structure.
During the “CodeNEXT” process, many Austin homeowners raised concerns that the new regulations would make existing single-family homes “non-conforming.” These concerns included not only potential limitations on expansions or alterations, but also impacts that the label “nonconforming” may have on individual properties. For some homeowners, the new policy direction approved by Council heightened these concerns by directing that, within the transition areas, the new code should require “properties zoned for multi-family develop with multi-family and not single-family structures (page 7; 1, h, iii)." This would mean that, rather than simply not complying with a size or setback restriction, use of the property for a single-family home could become non-conforming.
In recognition of these concerns, Council’s policy direction requires that the new code “make allowances for existing single-family structures that become non-conforming to be maintained, remodeled, and potentially expanded, so long as they are not demolished or substantially rebuilt (page 7; 1, h, iii)." To implement this directive, staff plans to recommend two key provisions in the “Land Development Code Revision” planned for release in October.
The first provision would allow existing single-family homes in transition areas to be expanded and modified to the full extent allowed under the regulations that apply to areas zoned for single-family uses. The right to continue using the property as a single-family home would not be affected unless the existing structure was intentionally demolished or converted to another use.
Second, rather than using the term “non-conforming,” existing single-family homes in transition areas would be classified as a new category of compliant residential use. We believe this approach addresses concerns raised by homeowners regarding the impact of applying the “nonconforming” designation to existing single-family homes.
Additionally, by creating a new category of compliant residential uses, the nonconforming designation can be reserved for existing uses that are incompatible with new zones and are meant to be phased out. (An example would be industrial uses in residential areas.) Single-family homes and multi-unit residential development can be compatible with one another, as demonstrated by older Austin neighborhoods where duplexes, triplexes, smaller apartments, and similar housing choices exist close to single-family homes.
In sum, these proposed changes aim to balance the goal of increasing housing capacity in transition areas with the needs of existing single-family homeowners. By changing the designation of existing homes from “nonconforming” to “compliant,” and relaxing the limits on improvements to the structure, the proposed changes would preserve existing entitlements.
Austin's Land Development Code Revision
July 23, 2019
In 2012, the Austin City Council unanimously adopted Imagine Austin, the City’s 30-year comprehensive plan. Articulated in Imagine Austin is Austin’s vision to be:
Let that sit for a little bit: affordable and accessible to all.
Today, Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation with a population growth expected to nearly double over the next 30 years. We must plan for the residents who live here now and for many new Austinites.
Building a Versatile Toolbox
Land development codes regulate where, how, and what may or may not be built, thereby shaping how our community evolves. Austin’s current Land Development Code was written more than 30 years ago, when the City’s population was half the size, and in a time when car transportation was prioritized. A separate analysis has determined that the current code is difficult to use, overly complex, inconsistent and compromises the character of Austin’s communities by working against Austin’s vision.
Austin is experiencing displacement, gentrification, traffic congestion, and an affordable housing challenge. A new land development code alone will not solve these long-standing issues. But, a new code in concert with complementary programs and services will help us build a versatile toolbox of resources to combat these challenges.
In 2013, the City engaged the help of national and local experts to work with elected officials, staff, appointed representatives, and the community at large on how best to align the land use standards with Imagine Austin’s goals and vision. Dubbed CodeNEXT, the new land code went through three draft versions with each iteration receiving significant community feedback. However, after extensive discussion, the City Council ended the CodeNEXT process after determining that it was not a suitable mechanism to achieve its stated goals or to address the critical challenges currently facing our City.
There is a strong relationship between land use and transportation. And we already know that housing costs and transportation costs are key drivers (no pun intended) to affordability. With the recent adoption of ASMP, we have a rare opportunity to holistically integrate transportation planning with land use planning. Essentially, updating the Land Development Code with the ASMP in mind will allow us to more effectively manage traffic congestion and impact affordability.
In developing a new process, the City Manager asked Council five policy questions that drive the content of the Land Development Code. The Council provided its policy direction and further directed staff to:
Create a new land development code and zoning map concurrently;
Plan for approximately 400,000 units over the next 10 years as a means of achieving the 135,000 unit goal established by the Strategic Housing Blue Print;
Provide a clear public process for Austinites, including timelines and opportunities for public input, and how their input has been received and used; and
Provide the draft code text and zoning map for Council action in October of 2019.
The City Manager has assembled a broad-based and cross-functional team that will collaboratively share in the responsibility of drafting a revised code. The team is hard at work reviewing previous CodeNEXT feedback for alignment with Council direction and drafting code language. We are taking a different approach to this effort. Inspired by Strategic Direction 2023, equity and affordability (for all) serve as the anchoring values driving our work every day.
As the process continues, we’ll dive deeper into the code revision and explain more nuanced areas in greater detail.