Where am I Supposed to Live?

student homeless
  • Some ACC students have requested that the Board of Trustees help them find affordable housing.
  • The Board of Trustees has agreed to help them with a few different initiatives.
  • But real change and help will not occur until Austin’s City Council has better housing policies.

There was an article this week in the Austin-American Statesman that caught my eye. In it, the local reporter interviewed some college students about their struggles with finding affordable housing.

We have all been talking a lot about affordable housing. I mean, its one of the biggest issues in the country. The article was especially interesting to me because it was a real world example of all the bad local housing policies in action.

It kind of fired me up again to talk about all the mistakes the Austin City Council is making and how there’s still time to fix it – but its fading fast. So that’s what we will talk about this week – Austin’s bad housing policies and how they directly affect Austinites.

Its Difficult for Students to Find Affordable Housing in Austin

The author of the article in the Statesman interviewed a few Austin Community College students who were having difficulty finding housing. According to the article, there are thousands of ACC students struggling with the rising cost of housing. And some of them have to resort to couch surfing, regularly visiting food pantries, or moving far away from Central Austin to make ends meet.

Obviously this is not what anyone wants. It does not serve anyone’s best interests for students to have to commute from far outside the city because they cannot afford to live in Austin. In response to these issues, the ACC student government asked the Board of Trustees to respond to the affordability crisis with a variety of measures, including working with community partners to find affordable housing options, identifying housing sites close to campus with reliable free transportation, and creating a committee to prioritize student housing.

ACC seems sympathetic to the cause and it plans to work with the students to identify housing solutions, increase awareness of housing resources, and alleviate the personal and financial challenges that students face.

Need to Face the Core Problem for the Affordability Crisis

The one thing that was noticeably absent from the article was a discussion of why the students are in this situation in the first place and how they can get out of it. The reality is, they are right. Austin has an affordable housing issue. And I know we have talked a lot about this but the main culprit for it are Austin City Council’s terrible housing policies.

To the Council’s credit, some of the members have tried to enact an overhaul of the zoning code that would be friendlier to building density. But as you know, this has been struck down by the courts. As a result, Austin is basically back at square one for an overhaul.

But that does not mean there is nothing the City Council can do. A few months ago, we hosted a roundtable with the Austin Business Journal where we talked to a number of leaders in the real estate industry. They had a lot of ideas about how the City Council can help improve housing affordability. Without making a complete overhaul to the code, the City Council can –

  • Allow all homeowners to be able to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs);
  • Reduce the minimum parking requirements;
  • Reduce the minimum lot size for single family homes;
  • Participate in private/public partnerships to encourage more affordable building; and
  • Adapt zoning changes in smaller areas to encourage denser building.

All of these changes will help to increase the supply of housing in Austin and, therefore, control the cost. Of course, there are still a number of folks on the Council and throughout the City that oppose even these changes. As a result, I fear that things are going to get much worse for these ACC students before they get better.

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