A Review of the LWV-AA Forum on CodeNEXT and Affordable Housing

June 4, 2017, Sustainable Food Center 2921 E 17th St. Building C

Possibilities, Problems, and Recommendations: Get Involved; Revise the Code, Don’t Kill it; Use the CodeNEXT Draft as an Opportunity to make Austin Affordable, Diverse, Livable our Reality, not just our Dream.

 We had a wonderful gathering at the Sustainable Food Center to learn more about CodeNEXT and Affordable housing, as part of our LWV Austin study this year on our current position locally on affordable housing. Five distinguished speakers helped us understand some of the complexities of the new land development policy in CodeNEXT, the problems of affordable housing in Austin, and what we might do as advocates for more affordable housing. Everyone needs to get involved in the process of commenting on the draft and suggesting changes.

Our five speakers offered a diversity of perspectives, ideas, facts, and suggestions; here are a few of their comments:

Greg Anderson. Director of Operations, Habitat for Humanity. Mr. Anderson pointed out that the last time such a code was written was 1984, and today, we are more interested in walkability. We are now short of at least 48,000 affordable housing units, and we must find a way to create change without driving up cost. Creating opportunities for more diversity in housing will enhance diversity of neighborhoods, which can only be a good thing. One major challenge is how to add more density. View Presentation PDF.

Jim Duncan. Duncan Associates. Urban Planner, former national president of the American Planning Association, Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners . Mr. Duncan gave us insights from his perspective as a city planner who has worked with other cities to revise land development codes.  He pointed out that accessory dwellings such as garage apartments, can help with increasing the number of affordable units. His powerpoint presentation is listed below for more information about city planning and our need to include best practices from other cities, such as Portland. He stressed that we must put affordability ahead of financial gain, and that we must look for a middle ground in all areas, and that adding density by itself will not solve the problems. View Presentation PDF.

Francisco Enriquez. Co-Founder and Managing Director at Glasshouse Policy, a first of its kind policy crowdsourcing think tank based in Austin. Mr. Enriquez encourages us to use a fact based analysis process to help determine what we want Austin to be as a place where people live, work, and play. A crucial question is “How do we design an Austin for all?” He noted that at least 350,000 people commute to work in the city of Austin every day, and as a result, we have a mobility crisis that demands our creativity to ameliorate. We need a good, fact-based policy conversation to help us make meaningful changes. He, along with other speakers, recommended the White House Affordable Housing Tool Kit. He emphasized also that we need to improve how quickly we are increasing affordable housing. View Presentation PDF.

Amy Wong Mok. Founder & CEO of the Asian American Cultural Center and President of the Asian American Community Partnership. Dr. Mok is especially concerned about the challenges faced by seniors, especially those in the Asian American community, who find themselves isolated and no longer caretakers of children and grandchildren for whom they relocated to Austin to help raise.  She is also concerned about how we are spending so much family time on the road. She stressed that this is our opportunity to put community interests first, to connect communities, to create intergenerational communities, to create spaces for intercultural exchanges, and places for people to learn about and find their roots. She is very concerned about maintaining the integrity of the Asian American Community Center in light of these values. Her presentation slides are included below and illustrate her vision of community. View Presentation PDF.

Kathie Tovo. Austin City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem. Council Member Tovo emphasized that CodeNEXT presents an opportunity for change.She noted that that the policy for what is called “up zoning,” which makes it possible for buildings to move from housing two units to up to eight, is a concern for many. She encouraged everyone to provide feedback through the established channels, to attend meetings and speak up for those values and concerns that we have. She noted that the Code draft is an intimidating document to get through, and it is presenting us with a new paradigm for land development, which adds to the challenges of responding to it.