Austin wants feedback on land use changes that could make way for more single-family homes

The Austin City Council and Planning Commission will hold the first public hearing on a set of piecemeal changes to the widely debated land development code later this month. It marks another step in the city’s attempt to navigate a defining issue — the need for more affordable housing.

On Oct. 26 at City Hall, the 10 council members, 14 commissioners and Mayor Kirk Watson will hold a public hearing to consider the implementation of new city ordinances intended to increase density and create new opportunities for developers, builders and homeowners.

The changes are in the form of the Home Options for Middle-income Empowerment initiative, or HOME, which would increase the number of dwelling units allowed on a single-family zoned lot and reduce the minimum lot size requirement from 5,000 square feet to 2,500 square feet to promote smaller single-family homes. The effort also opens the door for mobile tiny homes and recreational vehicles to be used as permanent residences in areas zoned for single-family housing.

The changes are planned in phases. The upcoming hearing will focus on the initial phase, which would allow up to three dwelling units on a single-family lot and make way for new tiny home standards. The meeting will mark the first of three opportunities for the public to provide input on the proposed changes.

The hearings, which were previously described by Watson as “a clear statement” for the public to be heard on the changes, comes as the city faces a lawsuit from a group of community members over concerns that the proposed changes violate court rulings that derailed the last comprehensive code revision.

Council has other efforts to promote affordability and housing in Austin, including a change in city code that will allow for the development of residential properties on land zoned for commercial use. All told, more than 30 land development code changes — large and small — have been proposed in recent years by Council and the Planning Commission.

District 7 City Council Member Leslie Pool spearheaded the HOME initiative with the intention of empowering homeowners to help create affordable housing for their neighbors.

“The things we’ve tried are not really moving the needle for the middle-class who keep our city and public schools running, EMS ambulances driving, and small businesses thriving,” Pool stated in an Oct. 10 newsletter. “And the status quo is clearly not working as we struggle with staffing shortages everywhere we look.”

Pool said the the first phase of the HOME initiative will be considered for formal implementation this fall after the resolution is prepared by city staff.

“Homeowners can modify their residence to have a secondary apartment or add a unit on their property to house a family member, a caregiver, or earn passive income to pay the bills,” Pool said.

The second phase, which would reduce the city’s minimum lot size, is expected to be considered by the spring of 2024 with its own public hearings and review process. Pool said staff needs additional time to draft the resolution.

“We can work together to consider options for homeowners who need it, and how to welcome more middle-income families into our neighborhoods so that Austin can truly feel like a home for everyone,” she stated.

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