Draft Austin DSA Housing Committee
Proposed for March or April Endorsement by Austin DSA
Austin is in a housing crisis. Austin's renters face the daily pressure of soaring rents, unscrupulous landlords, and brutal evictions, and homelessness is widespread. As the East Side and other working class communities confront runaway gentrification and inadequate city services, central city homeowners watch their property values skyrocket, making homeownership increasingly unattainable. And every day the city sprawls further outward, making traffic and environmental degradation a way of life.
CodeNEXT is the revision of the City of Austin’s zoning code, which says where and how buildings - including housing - can be built and for what they can be used. There is a heated debate between pro- and anti-density advocates about CodeNEXT’s proposed changes, with both claiming their opponents will increase gentrification and unaffordability. Our position is that both sides’ solutions are at best inadequate and at worst counterproductive.
On the one hand, anti-gentrification activists rooted in the East Side and other working class communities are absolutely justified in decrying the damage wrought by displacement, especially of people of color, and their fight must become our fight. But whereas their opposition to development stems from disproportionately feeling the brunt of Austin’s growth - a legacy of Austin’s institutionally racist development patterns - their landowner allies in center city Austin base their opposition in preserving their neighborhoods as they currently exist, which also means maintaining their character as disproportionately wealthy and white.
Regardless of its source, however, the anti-density alliance’s opposition to development will only exacerbate Austin’s existing housing shortage, decrease affordability, and further displacement.
On the other hand, while the urbanist, pro-density side’s vision of a compact and connected city would provide tangible quality of life benefits, adding zoning capacity to build more housing units will not on its own stop gentrification or ensure affordability for the numbers of working class Austinites that need it, nor does it sufficiently account for the legacy of institutional racism enacted through Austin's planning and development processes.
As democratic socialists, we are committed to housing that works for working people. It is true that CodeNEXT cannot provide all the affordable housing we need, which is why we support a major affordable housing bond in November 2018 capable of making serious dents in our affordability gaps. We need public housing, rent-stabilized housing, housing cooperatives, land banking, and a major expansion of the City’s community land trust to provide alternatives to the failing, profit-driven housing model.
At the same time, we cannot pretend the private market doesn’t exist, and we will not abandon the Austinites being exploited by it until we achieve our goal of complete decommodification. While we push for a public option in housing, we must use all possible tools to create enough housing for working people to break the artificial housing shortage and provide relief from the affordability crisis. In doing so, we must also redress the past injustices that first under-developed East Austin and then forced rapid growth and gentrification on it, while at the same time excluding its residents and other working people from economically and racially segregated, high opportunity central city neighborhoods.
To that end, we make the following demands on CodeNEXT and any future revisions of the land development code:
1. Adopt the Friends of Austin Neighborhoods (FAN) CodeNEXT Recommendations
In September, FAN’s membership adopted the following nine recommendations, which the Austin DSA Housing Committee endorses as steps to alleviate Austin’s housing shortage, create a wider range of housing types affordable to more Austinites, and decrease economic and racial housing segregation. More information on each recommendation may be found at www.atxfriends.org/votes.
2. Create a West Austin Opportunity Overlay
In order to slow redevelopment in East Austin, steer development intensity west by creating a West Austin Opportunity Overlay based on Austin’s opportunity mapping that doubles residential entitlements relative to base zoning (exempting the Barton Springs recharge zone).
3. Deploy an Automatic Affordability Trigger
Directly link zoning to affordability through an automatic affordability trigger: When any neighborhood exceeds certain thresholds of unaffordability, automatically upzone it subject to the affordable housing bonus program and city investment in public or social housing, such as land trusts, housing cooperatives, and nonprofit housing.
4. Establish a Right of Return for Displaced Residents
If apartment buildings or single-family houses redevelop with higher density, incentivize developers to provide a “right of return” for displaced residents and former neighborhood residents:
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