Family-friendly city : envisioning a "missing middle" density bonus in Austin's single-family neighborhoods
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As Austin’s population grows, it is increasingly difficult for low and middle-income families with children to find suitable, affordable housing in Austin’s central neighborhoods. This is partly because Austin’s current zoning is highly restrictive in which lot size minimums and unit maximums keep housing supply low. Families add to Austin’s vibrancy, and it is an Imagine Austin goal to enact policies to retain them. I propose one such policy that should be incorporated into CodeNEXT, the rewrite of Austin’s land development code: a density bonus in areas tentatively zoned “T3,” through which developers could create more units than allowed by right, provided that some are affordable. This bonus would allow for the production of “Missing Middle” housing more dense than a detached single-family home, but less dense than an apartment in a mid or high-rise. This would create a larger supply of both market-rate, middle-income housing and low-income housing that is designated as such. I justify the need for this through two analyses. 1) I found that two of Austin’s most widely used density incentives, the Vertical Mixed Use and Transit Oriented Development bonuses, have produced an overproportion of affordable studio units, and minimal affordable two-bedroom units, which would be appropriate for families. 2) I analyzed residential demolition and building permits in Brentwood and Crestview to understand the change in the built environment under the current, “SF-3” zoning. This showed that demolitions of old homes rose in the mid 2010’s, despite the restrictive zoning. New-builds on nearly half the lots were single-family homes, and the average square feet was 2.2 times larger than the home they replaced. There is, however, great market demand for smaller units that split land cost between one another- allowing them would serve affordable housing needs. Currently, consultants have proposed a similar density bonus for “T4” and “T5” zoned areas. The bonus should be expanded to “T3” areas, which would include Brentwood, Crestview, North Loop, Zilker, and parts of Bouldin Creek. Allowing such a bonus would be a political compromise: in exchange for more units, developers would be required to provide much-needed family-sized, affordable housing.