Affordability Unlocked and Its Impact

Austin on Your Feet is lucky to have a guest column by Brian Poteet! We’re running it two parts: today an overview of some projects and tomorrow some analysis! Brian grew up in Austin and graduated from UT in 2017. Since then, he’s been living and working without a car in Central Austin all while developing an unhealthy obsession with city government. When he’s not online you can find him roaming the streets on his bike or playing tennis as if he taught himself during a pandemic.

Back in May 2019, City Council unanimously approved an affordable housing bonus program introduced by Council Member Greg Casar called Affordability Unlocked (AU). The program intended to significantly increase how far affordable housing developers could stretch each dollar. Developers who provide low- and moderate-income housing get to work with a looser ruleset when building. 

The program defines two levels of affordability and offers different incentives for each. The first level requires half of the units in a rental property to be affordable, as defined by what a family making 60% of Austin’s median family income (MFI) could afford. A portion of those units must be affordable to families making up to 50% MFI. Ownership units must be affordable to households with incomes up to 80% MFI. These buildings can be built taller, closer to the street and the side of the property, and allow more people to live in a unit, and they won’t need to build parking for residents. In neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes, these buildings are allowed up to 6 units.

The second level requires 75% of units to be affordable, with 10 percent at 30% MFI or below (i.e. for people at even lower income levels). The homes must also be located close to major bus lines. These properties get all of the bonuses from the first level, even more allowable height, and eight units are allowed on single family lots. I left out a few details for the sake of brevity, but that’s the gist of it.

These bonuses are a big deal! Previously, if a non-profit developer wanted to build 8 homes in a primarily single family neighborhood like Crestview, they would have to buy 4 separate lots (good luck finding one for less than $400k these days). Now, they could simply buy one lot and build an 8-plex.

According to the Austin Monitor, 2,721 units have been certified under the program as of September 2019. However, very few of those projects have broken ground thus far and it’s likely that some never will never make it past the drawing board. Here are a few of the projects coming down the pipeline:

Some Unlocked Projects

A at Lamppost

Rendering by Capital A Housing

The first AU project broke ground in July 2019 just north of Parmer at 12500 Lamppost Lane. All of the units will be for sale around $200,000. If not for the waived parking requirements, this lot would have yielded a measly 7 units, but due to Affordability Unlocked it will have seventeen units. Previously, the lot had just one house.

The Henderson

The abandoned church that now stands at 1101 Reinli St. Photo by Brian Poteet

Off of Cameron Road, LDG Development has plans for a 308-unit affordable housing complex at 1101 Reinli Street. The site currently has an abandoned church surrounded by a sea of parking, so this is undoubtedly a nice upgrade. Without AU, this project would have 72 fewer units.

Burnet Place

Rendering from Project Transitions

Project Transitions is an organization dedicated to serving people with HIV/AIDS by providing housing, comprehensive support services, and recuperative care. In Spring 2021, they intend to break ground on a 61-unit complex at 8007 Burnet Road. AU allowed them to double the unit count from 30.

La Vista de Lopez

Believe it or not, there’s plenty of room for 34 more homes to the right of that blue house.

As reported by Austin Towers in 2019, the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation is aiming to squeeze a senior affordable housing tower in between the Tyndall condos and I-35 on just 0.17 acres of land. GNDC initially planned to construct 24 units, and the passage of AU allowed them to nix some of the parking and bump the unit count to 34. The project hasn’t yet been approved, but site prep is tentatively scheduled for August 2021.

4th and Onion

                                                                                     Photo by Page Architects

Just a block from Plaza Saltillo Station, Habitat for Humanity is planning to build 57 condos under the 80% MFI mark. Without AU this project would max out at 22 condos.

Coming tomorrow: Analysis of the policy!