The Austin Housing Coalition (AHC), of which HousingWorks is a member, started the second round of CodeNEXT Code Readings on February 10. The purpose of the Code Readings is to give members of the public an opportunity to discuss CodeNEXT 2.0, the second draft of Austin’s revised Land Development Code with others.
The Code Readings focus mainly on the parts of CodeNEXT that can affect the creation and preservation of affordable housing. One of those areas is the Density Bonus Program, which allows developers to build at density levels not allowed by existing zoning in exchange for building a certain number of affordable units. CodeNEXT allows those affordable units to be built away from the high-density property they’re looking to build. Many feel this “offsite option” opens the door to more income segregation as developers would likely build those affordable units in less expensive areas.
HousingWorks board member, and former City Council member Laura Morrison said she was concerned about another possible loophole. Morrison said, “There’s something that alludes to your offsite units being existing units, not new units. So, in the extreme, what if you say, I’m going to offer my offsite units in this multi-family building that’s 39 years old. So, how do you ensure that you get an equivalent contribution and community benefit if it’s not new.”
Another option developers have through the Density Bonus Program is to pay a fee-in-lieu to the City’s Housing Trust Fund instead of building affordable units. Susan Moffat, who was a member of the Code Advisory Group, expressed concerns about whether CodeNEXT will create enough affordable housing for families. Moffat said “I would just like to make a plea for having offsite and fee-in-lieu units targeted to families because they’re just not going to get anything through any of the other density bonus programs. It’s just because of what the market is producing we know they’re going to be skewed to singles.”
The Code Readings also produced lively discussions about how the percentage of required affordable units should be calculated in the Density Bonus Program, how to adopt a stronger definition of “family-friendly” housing, whether CodeNEXT consultants are being transparent enough about their computations, whether a stronger definition of “high opportunity areas” is needed to ensure that affordable housing is built in areas that will be beneficial to residents, and whether lowered parking standards provide benefit to tenants and not just developers.
Another Code Reading was scheduled for Thursday, October 19, 9:00-10:30 AM in the Community Room at the Jeremiah Program Austin Campus located at 1200 Paul Teresa Saldana St. Nicole Joslin, Chair of AHC, says these discussion will help the coalition draft a letter to the City that addresses concerns about CodeNEXT 2.0, just as it did for the first draft.