Vertical Mixed Use Letter to City Council

April 18, 2022

Dear Mayor, Mayor Pro Tem, and Councilmembers,

The Austin Housing Coalition is a coalition of nonprofit agencies and other interested organizations, businesses, and residents who support the creation, improvement, and preservation of affordable housing for the Austin community. We believe that with the limited tools available to produce and preserve affordable housing in Texas, it is paramount for the City of Austin to support all mechanisms to ensure that low to moderate income households can live and thrive in our community.

The Austin Housing Coalition was excited to learn about the policy changes that City staff are recommending surrounding the development incentive program Vertical Mixed Use (2).

Our hope is to ensure that the Vertical Mixed Use (2) program is successful at:

  1. Producing substantially more affordable units than previous density bonus
  2. Ensuring that appropriate compliance is arranged to support the marketing and provision of these units to community members with the highest need

Our comments to support these goals include:

  • Dramatically reduce or eliminate compatibility setbacks, while maintaining screening and design standards; eliminate use-triggered compatibility
  • Address the 25ft no-build area; Can we allow any non-unsightly building/utilities etc. to be built there?
  • Create more flexibility for smaller and irregularly-sized lots to increase their ability to use VMU2
  • Eliminate parking requirements
  • Tighten affirmative marketing and compliance-related aspects of the program. It is near-impossible for low-income community members to gain access to these units, because there are no requirements about posting real-time availability for current density bonus units. This program should initiate a new standard of compliance in similar fashion to the affordability unlocked compliance standards to ensure people who need access to these units can access them.
  • Change the affordability requirements for rental units to allow only developers who provide 50% MFI or below units to access the VMU2 incentives. Given that the MFI levels in Austin have gone up dramatically and that the Strategic Housing Blueprint suggests a widening gap for units at or below 50% MFI levels, the City should only be incentivizing developers to build units at these income levels.
  • If the Fee in Lieu option is available for homeownership developments, the fee requirement should exist as a calculation that accounts for construction costs of the proposed project as opposed to basing it on a fixed amount that does not reflect current conditions.

Thank you for your consideration of this measure at a time when low to moderate income households are being uprooted from the City at alarming rates.

Brittany Baize
2022 Austin Housing Coalition Chair