New effort to create affordable housing in Austin

The Mueller development in East Austin is considered an example of what the city would like in affordable housing.
The Mueller development in East Austin is considered an example of what the city would like in affordable housing.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Affordable housing and living in Austin may not be two phrases most people link together, but city officials are hoping to change that.

Beginning Wednesday night the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development office was explore the need for affordable housing in the city.

But the word “affordable” can certainly be subjective to a person’s income.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development an affordable home means a family spends no more than 30 percent of their income on mortgage or rent plus bills, taxes not included.

The last time a consultant hired by the city conducted a study to examine the need for affordable housing was in 2009. At that time they determined the city was lacking 39,000 affordable units.

Now five years later, with the recent population boom, that number will likely increase dramatically.

There are funds to build affordable housing. A $65 million bond was passed in 2013 and in 2006 a $55 million voter approved bond built and repaired just over 2,400 units.

But the goal with building new affordable housing is to construct it near public transportation.

“Transportation costs are the second largest expense after housing costs so if you were able to get affordable housing in tandem with other capital improvements like a rail line you would be able to decrease a households expense on transportation,” said Jonathan Tomko, Senior Research Analyst with the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development.

HUD recommends families spend no more 15 percent of their income on transportation otherwise it’s not considered affordable. So the idea is to build affordable units within walking distance to public transportation, getting cars off of roads, and reducing expenses for households.

For example, the proposed Urban Rail line is one spot the city would like to see more affordable housing built so commuters could walk to the train to get to work.

For those who moved outside of the city to buy a more affordable home but find their expenses are still adding up it’s a growing problem.

The Brookings Institute examined housing trends from 2000 to 2011 and found poverty is growing twice as fast in the suburbs as it is in urban centers and rural areas. The Austin metro area was ranked the second in the nation for growing poverty in the suburbs and it’s attributed to the commute.

“As a result of that you are seeing lower income households being pushed to the suburbs where transportation costs are actually higher and the housing may appear to be lower but then they may not have enough money to afford a car or what if that car breaks down they can’t get to employment or educational opportunities,” said Tomko.

Those interested in helping the city examine where affordable housing should be constructed and who is impacted can attend a public open house Wednesday at 6:30p.m. and Thursday at 9a.m. Both meetings will be held at the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development office on east 11th street.

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