City considers charging demolition fee to help pay for affordable housing

Demolition of home (KXAN File Photo)
Demolition of home (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Right now, Austin has about 60,000 non-subsidized affordable housing units — units that are at risk of being demolished. Austin City Council is hoping to pump the breaks of rapid demolition by potentially tacking on a fee.

“We need to be more assertive about preserving the existing affordable housing that we have,” Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo told KXAN.

The idea is for city staff to analyze the impact of demolishing those units.

“There is a city outside of Chicago that collects $10,000 for demolition of any residential structure or per unit for a multi-family apartment unit. We can’t structure our program in the way that they do, but we are looking to create a mitigation fee,” Tovo said.

Tovo represents one of three districts where more than half of all approved demolition permits occur: Districts 3, 9 and 10.

“We know that when that housing is demolished and new housing comes in its place, the housing costs increase,” Tovo said.

But Witt Featherston, with Austin Infill Builders, says adding a fee will do the same.

“I mean a fee increases the cost of housing across the board,” he said. “We want people to live in Austin that can afford a $200,000 house. A $300,000 house. And this gets passed directly on to them.”

Featherston also anticipates push-back from the state. “This is attempting to do a linkage fee by another name,” he said, a fee that is generally attached to new construction to subsidize affordable housing. Texas doesn’t allow it.

“So at best this is an 18-month solution until the legislature reconvenes and says no, city of Austin. You can’t do that,” Featherston said.

But Tovo and others on city council are interested in seeing what they can do.

“It’s incumbent on the city council to really do whatever we can to address that issue,” Tovo said, of the rapidly disappearing affordable housing stock.

City data indicates there were nearly 1,800 demolitions in the urban core between 2000-2010. In just 10 years, that’s the same amount of residential demolitions has the 30 years before.

The city manager is expected to report back to council with recommendations by April.

Thursday night, council also approved changes for testing for lead and asbestos before demolishing a home. The changes would limit public exposure to those items and other potential toxins found in older homes. The move came after a recent audit showed safety risks weren’t being taken into consideration during demolitions.

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