Peering outside of the City Hall bubble on affordable housing

Bluebonnet Studios, an income-restricted apartment building in my neighborhood on South Lamar. It offers efficiency apartments for $412-$712. 

The other day on Twitter, a couple soccer fans ridiculed the notion that the vacant lot being considered as a future site for a soccer stadium might instead be used for affordable housing. One of them raised legitimate points about the site’s suitability for (which I will address in a later post) because of a lack of nearby grocery stores. Then there was this:

This’ll come off as snobby, but I LOVE the Domain area, and “affordable housing” projects would take away from the upscale, modern feel it has. A stadium, however…

I replied that yes, indeed, that does come off as snobby. But it garnered a “like” from MLSinAustin, the group of soccer fans (not to be confused with the astroturf group, MLS2ATX, which is run by Precourt Ventures) that has been pushing for an MLS team to come to here for years. After I asked whether it really wanted to be on record endorsing the idea that poor people shouldn’t be offered housing near the Domain, they appeared to undo the “like” and the original tweeter ultimately deleted the tweet.

I’m not naive; the belief that the poor should not live near nice things is pretty common.  It’s been one of the guiding principles of zoning ordinances in towns and cities across the country for decades. But I’m surprised to see it publicly expressed in Austin.

I guess I’ve spent too much time at City Hall. Even though Austin is one of the most economically segregated cities in the country and large swaths of it remain off-limits to anybody who can’t buy an expensive, single-family home, all of Austin’s political leaders at least say that mixed-income neighborhoods are a good thing. In fact, the public debate over CodeNEXT is largely about what types of zoning policies will actually facilitate economic integration and prevent the poor and working class from being priced out of the city.

However, the opinion that subsidized housing is yucky and will ruin otherwise nice areas is no doubt shared by a large percentage of the population. It definitely helped bring down the $78 million affordable housing bond in 2012 and it could help defeat whatever housing measure is on the ballot this November.

The sentiment is also based on a lack of awareness of the existing affordable housing developments throughout the city. As one person on Twitter pointed out, the “upscale, modern feel” in the Domain already coexists with income-restricted housing! The same is true of Mueller. The affordable housing developments that have been built in recent years, from apartment buildings to townhouses, are aesthetically-pleasing and generally indistinguishable from the nearby market-rate housing.

I certainly don’t think that most people who walk by Bluebonnet Studios, an income-restricted apartment complex for single people on South Lamar, would know that it is an affordable development. Or do they?

One thought on “Peering outside of the City Hall bubble on affordable housing

Leave a Reply