Does Austin Really Have “Affordable Housing?” – And If So, Where Is It?

By Bill Oakey – October 28, 2017

Once upon a time, a little girl named Dorothy took a walk with her friends, the scarecrow, the tin man and the cowardly lion. They had been told there was a wizard in Emerald City and they were off to see him. Here in Austin, some folks have tried a similar quest along a different yellow brick road. They are in search of something popularly referred to as “affordable housing.”

So, just this morning, I called a City Council office and asked what I hoped would be a simple set of questions. Here they are:

  1. How many agreements has the City made with developers over the last 20 years to allow density bonuses or other types of waivers and exemptions in exchange for the promise of “affordable housing” units?
  2. Does the City maintain a database of these agreements, with the addresses of the properties, the number of “affordable units” promised and the criteria used to define those units as “affordable?”
  3. Over those 20 years of so, were procedures put in place to monitor each of those approved agreements to ensure that the affordable units actually got built, and were actually marketed at the agreed upon prices?
  4. Did each of those agreements include fines or other penalties for failure to adhere to them?
  5. Were followup actions taken in every case, to ensure that the agreements were fully enforced, and all applicable fines or penalties assessed and collected?
  6. Did each of these agreements contain language that required the units to remain affordable  into the future, after the sales to subsequent owners or the turnover of tenants?
  7. How many units in each of these approved development projects or subdivisions exist today within each project covered by these agreements?
  8. Is there a public webpage or a City office where citizens can go to find a list of these affordable units currently on the market for lease or for sale?

Are You Ready for the Answer That I Got?

I cannot reveal the name of the Council Aide that I posed these questions to. He is one of the very best of the bunch, and he gave me the only answer he could. What he said was…

“Those are all very good questions!”

While you are reading this, jack hammers, drills and buzz saws are pounding and whirring away in all quadrants of the city. Huge and controversial developments are now being built, with everyone who participated in the approval process tucking themselves into bed every night, believing that some of those new units will become “affordable.”

But does anybody know if that will really happen? How would we ever find out? Will any of the folks who pack their baskets and bring along their dogs for a journey down the yellow brick road ever get to the affordable pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow? Or will they simply click their heels together and wake up to find that it was all just a whimsical dream?

Stay Tuned, Because This Blog Posting Is Going to the City Council

This may be one of those situations where if nobody knows the answer, then there is no answer. If that’s the case, I will be making a formal proposal to put in place the procedures that are outlined in my questions.

The Race Is On!

While you are reading this, developers, developer lawyers, lobbyists and engineers, etc. are very hard at work. The mad scramble is on to push for a speedy conclusion to the CodeNext final approval. Imagine a hundred thousand race cars on a giant track in the sky above Austin. There is a great golden starting gate and a humongous cannon set to go off to start the race. At precisely one second past midnight on CodeNext’s start date, the cannon will blow. Then every square inch of land within a zillion miles of the center of Austin will get a proposal for a new development project. A hundred thousand motors will roar to life in a hundred thousand bulldozers. HIgh above the sprawling streets in cities around the world, from Austin to Boston, from Dallas to Dubai, the champagne corks will explode in bankers’ and developers’ offices.

And somewhere in Austin, off on a grassy hill along one of the many corridors slated for new development, a little tiny mouse will whisper to the other little tiny mouse crouched next to him…

“Wasn’t there supposed to be something in CodeNext about affordable housing?” And the other mouse will reply, “Yes, I read that same story. Did you hear the one about Wendy and the Lost Boys? She can make them fly! Just by sprinkling pixie dust. Maybe we can fly too, and be like Peter Pan!”

Musical Accompaniment for this blog piece:

  1. “The Race Is On” by George Jones
  2. “Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland
  3. “We’re Off to See the Wizard” by the Munchkins
  4. “(Such An) Easy Question” by Elvis Presley
  5. “Answer Me My Love” by Nat King Cole

CodeNext Songs

  1. “Who Will the Next Fool Be?” by Charlie Rich
  2. “Next Door to An Angel” by Neil Sedaka
  3. “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” by Freddy Fender
  4. “The Next Time” by Cliff Richard
  5. “Next In Line” by Conway Twitty
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4 thoughts on “Does Austin Really Have “Affordable Housing?” – And If So, Where Is It?

  1. Todd Jones

    I told you you should have run for Mayor. We would be better off with your reasoned approaches to everything and your ‘no waste’ policies. Keep fighting Bill Was wondering when we’d hear from you again.

    Reply
  2. Oliver Crinkelmeyer

    The City raises our taxes, and our water bills, and asks what it can do to make Austin more affordable. We offer mega incentives to people to move here, and then claim we are running out of water and electricity. How come I don’t understand this?

    Reply
  3. Dick Brown

    In my recent AAS op-ed, I named “11 Reasons Austin will lose the affordable housing battle.”
    Actually, I thought of 20 reasons, but did not have enough allowable space to list all of them.
    CodeNext, the current political rhetoric ‘affordable housing’ centerpiece, will do nothing
    to solve the problem. The city council is the problem.

    Reply

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