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Report card finds Austin falling short on affordable housing

Report card finds Austin falling short on affordable housing

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new report card is out for the City of Austin, and we don't get very good grades when it comes to affordable housing.

The Austin Strategic Housing Blueprint Scorecard tracks Austin's progress to create 60,000 affordable housing units across the city by the year 2028.

The latest annual scorecard was just released and shows where we are four years into that goal: drastically behind.

It shows all 10 city council districts are falling short of their goal to create affordable housing, with just two districts making any progress: Districts 4 and 9 are meeting 60-99% of the goal at current building rates.

"It's nice to have such a safe neighborhood. My kids are in good schools," said Nicole Longnion.

She lives in the Mueller neighborhood and doesn't take her quiet streets for granted. She used to live in an affordable apartment on East Sixth Street.

"Which is a little bit crazier with people and things and traffic, and so it was just nice to get out of that," she said.

The single mom of two works as a massage therapist and was able to buy an affordable townhome from Austin Habitat for Humanity.

"It's like winning the lottery!" she laughed.

Habitat said they built 11 townhomes in the Mueller neighborhood and hope to build more due to their success.

The Mueller neighborhood also has its own affordable homes program. A spokesperson said once the community is complete, they'll have 25% affordable units, about 1,725 homes, condos and apartments for rent and purchase.

Those are all located in District 9 — one of the two that's making some progress on building affordable units.

"We need to do better," said Awais Azhar, board member of HousingWorks Austin.

The research and advocacy nonprofit works on the city's scorecards and wants voters to approve the affordable housing bond on the November ballot.

Azhar said the city has been able to create 6,000 units from past bonds, and another one is needed to keep growing the numbers, along with other solutions.

"Looking at comprehensive land development code reform, looking at our development process, looking at some partnerships with key community partners and private sector partners," he said.

For example, some areas of the city, including east Austin, have more zoning that allows for affordable housing unlike other areas, like west Austin, Azhar said.

"I know our council is currently exploring ideas to allow more multifamily on commercial lots that would actually ease some of that pressure," he explained. "Are there ones that could do mixed use with commercial at the bottom housing at the top, which could be affordable?"

He said the city also needs to look into offering more incentives to private developers.

Finally, Azhar said, more employers need to get into the affordable housing game, too. He points to Austin ISD's partnership with Habitat to open up housing to teachers. A spokesperson for Habitat said they have more than 1,500 inquiries for that project.

"AISD is showing us the way of doing that employer-assisted housing, but we also need to have those conversations with private sector employers, we need to have that conversation with other public sector employees," Azhar said, so Austinites like Longnion don't have to feel like they're winning the lottery just to find an affordable home.

"I am so lucky," she said.

If you're interested in learning more about Austin Habitat's affordable homes, you can find information and apply here.

What does affordable housing mean?

Who are we talking about when we talk about those who need affordable housing? The range might surprise you.

The calculations are based on the median family income (MFI) in your area, which is $110,300 for a family of four in Austin-Travis County.

The parameters are set by the the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to data compiled by HousingWorks, that means you're considered moderate income if your household makes between $88,250 and $132,350 a year. Those are people like physical therapists, engineers and nurse practitioners.

Low-income to below poverty level in the Austin MSA means you make below $88,250. That includes anyone from a teacher, child care provider, firefighter, architect or seniors on fixed incomes.

This chart from HousingWorks offers examples of what kinds of jobs in our areas fall under different income brackets and how many households there are in each category in the Austin MSA.

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