My colleague Jo Clifton put it well in a recent article about a proposed zoning change to allow a proposed multi-family development in North Central Austin from 220 units to 258 units.
The developer’s representative, Alice Glasco, said the magic words – affordable housing – so regardless of neighborhood objections, Council will likely grant a minimal zoning change when the matter comes back to Council at the end of September.
What this development has going for it is that the majority of the 258 units will be income-restricted. It’s rare to get a deal that good.
A more typical situation might have been a development of this size that is offering 10% affordable units. In that case, certain Council members would have found the opposition from the neighborhood association far more persuasive. Some or all of the liberal Council members who are sensitive to neighborhood character concerns –– Leslie Pool, Kathie Tovo, Alison Alter, Ora Houston, Ann Kitchen –– would have very likely been opposed.
And therein lies the debate over housing. While there is a broad political consensus in Austin in favor of allowing additional density when it is accompanied by a significant amount of income-restricted housing, development becomes much more controversial when most or all of the housing is not specifically targeting low-income residents. There are far fewer buyers of the arguments that new market-rate apartments provide an opportunity for middle-income people to live in expensive areas or that increased density helps facilitate transit and reduce sprawl.
There have been a couple decent points in response on Twitter:
I agree that the
neighborhood association neighborhood plan contact team contesting this zoning change has nowhere near the influence as the Central Austin neighborhood groups. In contrast to the typical zoning battle, in this case the small minority of single-family homeowners in the area is complaining that the new development will further entrench the neighborhood’s rental-dominated character. That argument appears to have less sway than the usual complaint that a new development will change the a neighborhood’s single-family home character.
I do not agree with the framing of this area of town as low-opportunity. Unless population growth trends or the real estate market change, it won’t be “low-opportunity” for long. It’s just a whisker north of 183. All of the signs of blight that people could recite about this neighborhood echo would people were saying not too long ago about neighborhoods in Central East Austin where houses are now selling for a half-a-mil. These are the types of areas where we should get as much low-income housing as possible while the land is still relatively cheap. Doing so will lay the foundation for a mixed-income community in the future.
True, the street grid in this particular neighborhood is super fucked up, which makes it inhospitable to good transit. But I wonder if the sea of warehouses between this property and Lamar could one day be redeveloped into something a little more interesting … grocery/retail/entertainment/apartments.
Correction: This post has been updated for a couple reasons. The original suggested that the zoning change allowed a 238-unit building to be constructed, while in fact 220 units were already allowed under the current zoning. The new zoning will allow the addition of 38 more units, for a total of 258. Also, it was the North Lamar Contact Team opposed to the change, not the Georgian Acres Neighborhood Association.