The Affordable Housing that Bonds Give, Policy Takes Away

In November 2013, Austin voters passed a 10 -year, $65m housing bond. I never thought this bond would do much to affect affordability; Austin is expensive because it’s like a game of musical chairs with more players than chairs.  Compared to the size of the game, the bond was tiny*.

But just three months later, the Austin city council is threatening to take away any possible affordability gains by, at a stroke, eliminating one of the major options for affordability in the city: sharing a house or duplex with enough friends to bring prices down. (To read more on the issue, see this facebook event.)  To stretch the musical chairs analogy a little far, it’s as if the city has decided that, even though there are thousands of people on the outside looking in, unable to find chairs, the best option right now is to reduce the number of friends allowed to share a bench. The results of this ordinance will be to scatter some of those who want to share houses to currently affordable parts of the city, raising prices there, and price others out of the city entirely. Taken together, the net effect of the bond and ordinance will be to: 1) raise taxes, 2) use that money to fund quality-of-life issues for the squeaky wheel homeowner minority in university-adjacent neighborhoods.  If you, like me, feel like this is a really bad idea, I encourage you to take action, writing to City Council or speaking in front of the Council.

* The city says that the previous bond of about the same size funded 2,409 units over the course of its 8 year life or approximately 300 new units per year, in a city of 850,000 people.  By contrast, the private market added 11,834 units in 2013, according to the Census Bureau.  Screenshot here; data here.

4 thoughts on “The Affordable Housing that Bonds Give, Policy Takes Away

  1. Imagine Austin, the Preservationists Bible, states clearly growth should be pushed into the corridors. Never mind that the quantity of housing that economics will allow there will never meet the needs of a growing population. Never mind that incentives for affordable housing will never be utilized by developers. Never mind that we do not ever design incentives for home owners to build auxiliary units. Never mind that we tie our affordability wagon to increased growth and then bitch about that growth. Never mind that we do not ever have a conversation about how we navigate a steady state economy post oil and post water.

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