Austin in general: location, location, dislocation: decent accommodation for all Austinites “where it is needed”. Where can it be? – New
I, too, fled the state last week, but I’m back and COVID-free and ready to continue our conversation on how to achieve the big goal above – decent housing, for all (equity goal!) 1 million Austinians and 1.1 million in our suburbs (and it’s not over), “where it’s needed”. This last part is difficult, isn’t it?
It’s tempting to say that we need decent housing for all all over but it is not quite so. We need it in many places, and many more than we have. These are just facts, made more difficult to falsify by our insane growth rate. Assumptions of previous plans, policies, strategies and decisions, even those of only a few years ago, have been overtaken by real life.
But to think and say that you need housing all over paved the way for many decisions that Austin, Texas, and America have come to regret. It brought us a really insane sprawl on random pastures in the backcountry, which then forced cities, counties and states to build roads and systems to supply water and other expensive things. and difficult to maintain.
It’s a simple, economical choice that has proven to be shortsighted. Gentrification and displacement crises are more complex, as are their mirror images, exclusion and the NIMBY backlash. These have cultural and moral dimensions that we must assume. It’s not really a coincidence that the key legal term in land use, over which our donnybrooks argue, is ‘right’. We’ve spent a lot of time fighting for and against things emotionally, about what we think we have a right to, by right – building what we want, or preventing others from building what we don’t want – because that the concept of home is not reducible to a pro forma or a code.
We can afford to reduce those emotions a bit. It’s not an overall moral failure not to want to live among more people than today, and it’s not a defeat or a sign of weakness to live outside of the overrated Strange Austin area because that you want or need your life to include things other than making money to pay rent. Trying to force the accommodation all over in tight places where it scares people is not a step towards holiness. We have a lot of other options.
Known faults in the system
HousingWorks Austin’s latest look at affordable housing options in each Council district, still a valuable resource, would seem to be arguing against me here. Two-thirds of all affordable units in the city are located in four of the Council’s 10 districts; almost a quarter are in District 1, where I live. Districts 6 and 8, the most peri-urban districts, have less than 5% combined. Such inequalities! Doesn’t that mean that we have to build housing everywhere? HousingWorks’ statement of intent, “all kinds of houses in all parts of the city for all kinds of people”, isn’t it more convincing than “decent housing for all where it is needed”? last involving some kind of rationing, limiting choice, telling people to swallow and move to the suburbs, where they need but you don’t want to live?
To be clear, I don’t think there is that much daylight between me and my friends and colleagues at HousingWorks. But two things. First, trying to do everything for everyone everywhere – that is, not making real choices – is a known flaw in the Austin operating system. This is how we got a complete plan which is really a list of low priority tasks, and how our efforts to debug Austin’s 40-year-old land use code resulted in a more complex and complex product. more fragile than the original. We can only have so much resentment towards the strange activists and angry landowners, and their allies in the Council, who have so far put it all on hold. We also need to think about these things differently, more wisely but also in a more focused way, more about what can happen and less about what we think we have to. Humility is good, and things can and do change.
In fact – and this is the second thing – we can change where housing is needed by committing to a vision of the city and region that we want to live then build it. We are doing it with Project Connect, or hopefully doing it. If it achieves the ambitions many of us have invested in a modern transit system, it will unlock a fourth dimension in Austin’s real estate landscape, a place where thousands of people will live where hardly anyone lives. currently. Our deliberate effort to spend the money it takes to avoid displacement along the lines is laudable and necessary, but it should not distort our view of the magnitude of what is happening here; we have a lot of room to grow, rearranging a lot of properties that are being misused.
Do you know who else has figured this out? The suburbs! Many communities around Austin are acting together on housing, planning, and place creation, more than we often do here in the sophisticated city. They have seen their neighboring communities (including Austin!) Make terrible choices and are determined not to repeat them. (Ask residents of Georgetown or Taylor what they think of Round Rock and Hutto.)
Either they see their own missed opportunities and can mobilize to seize them, as Cedar Park is now doing by redeveloping the heart of Bell Boulevard, its old main street – and also US 183 – which has collapsed so much over the years. 1990 that people settled for hugged a toll road, then languished when the rest of the city blew up. Now they are solving it, with “placemaking” as a key objective. It will be a place where housing is needed. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of places like this where we can create places, some that we’ve known for years, others that we haven’t even discovered yet. Let’s find them.