Changes to Austin’s zoning code introduced by City Council this summer are headed for a number of public hearings over the next few months — and although we believe these amendments reforming the city’s widespread single-family zoning largely responsible for our local housing affordability crisis are an inspiring step in the right direction, we’re also expecting to see a lot of homeowner opposition to these and other upcoming changes to the city’s 1980s-vintage land development code.
Although a lot of concepts like reducing the city’s punishing minimum lot sizes are on the table in later phases, the first stage of these reforms seeks to legalize the construction of up to three housing units on every single-family lot, with the potential for “tiny homes” and RVs also permitted as accessory dwelling units. Three public hearings are scheduled for these code amendments, with the first next week:
- Thursday, October 26 at 2 p.m. – Joint Planning Commission and City Council Meeting
- Tuesday, November 14 at 6 p.m. – Planning Commission Meeting
- Thursday, December 7 at 10 a.m. – City Council Meeting
We would encourage our readers to show their support for these changes by participating in this public engagement process — everything from making a public comment at one of the meetings above to simply emailing City Council with your support will help show the city that there is widespread demand for expanding Austin’s housing options with “missing middle” development. As the opposition will repeatedly tell you, these initial zoning changes won’t magically bring new housing back down to 1970s prices overnight, but that’s a rhetorical trap used to justify doing nothing — we believe Austin’s own history of conscious refusal to accommodate growth has backfired immensely, and it’s time to try something new.
Along with supporting and expanding the city’s most successful affordable housing programs, increasing the zoned capacity of existing neighborhoods by allowing property owners to build up to three units on one residential lot is a common sense approach to density, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise — it’s in line with efforts by peer cities all over the country to unlock additional housing in alignment with existing neighborhood scale, which most people prefer to the current all-or-nothing approach of our code that incentivizes either very expensive single-family homes or very large apartment buildings with very little in between. The legacy of single-family zoning begins with explicit segregation and ends with homeownership sliding past the reach of Austin’s working class, so we’re thrilled to finally reach this moment in the city’s history where almost everyone acknowledges it’s time to make a change.