What is Density??

People are pretty agitated about Austin's proposed Land Development Code re-write. What's lost in all the noise is that there are two distinct concepts wrapped up in the same discussion - Density and Affordability. Their Facebook relationship status would have to say "it's complicated".

Density is very simple; it's the number of units for a given land area. One house on a central Austin lot is less Dense than 2 or 3 on the same lot, regardless of their size. 2 or 3 "tiny homes" that are 200 s.f. each would be Denser than one 6,000 s.f. house.

We can add additional Density to the fabric of Austin's neighborhoods in two ways: Big or Small.

We can add small ADU's (aka: garage apartments or Granny Flats), allow for relatively small Duplexes and allow small-scale multi-family into the neighborhoods. These are all familiar to us, as they were common in the 40s through the 70s until they were prohibited by a new zoning code in 1984. If you live in a central Austin neighborhood, you see these uses every day.

This is what's proposed by the new development code. They're trying to create incentives for increased density, and the incentive built into the code is greater building size, via very generous increases in allowances for height and FAR. FAR (Floor Area Ratio- or as I like to say "Future Affordability Ratio"). Our illustrations show just how massive these buildings will be. We all know that dividing the cost of a lot between two $800k condos isn't going make a meaningful difference with affordability.

Here's a very simple comparison illustration. Same Density on both lots (3 units), but the economics are wildly different. The existing homeowners on the right could finance and build the 800 s.f. duplex (particularly if we create an anti-displacement bond fund for ADU's), but the folks on the left would have to sell out to developers, since only developers have access to the cash needed to build the giant duplex that's fostered/permitted by the proposed code.

Either variety of added density comes with some potential inconveniences if it arrives next door to your home: more cars, more trash cans, less privacy in your back yard, more noise. The question for Austin is whether we make those compromises for only the wealthy or if we use those tools to help lower income residents find homes in the city.

With the proposed code, we weren't given an opportunity to consider any options. By giving away massive increases in development entitlements on every single piece of land in the city in one shot, we're missing the chance to add housing options that enhance and diversify our communities. The only "solution" being offered by the City right now is GIANT housing that will accelerate displacement and gentrification and drive housing costs higher at an even faster rate than we see today.

This isn't a PLANNING process- it's simply a large-scale entitlement handout to the real estate development industry. Tell the Mayor and the Council Majority that Austin deserves better.
Be sure to thank the Council Minority while you're at it (Alter, Pool, Tovo). They're swimming against the tide every day at City Hall, and they need to know we appreciate their courage and dedication to ALL of the people of Austin.

Then get out there and talk to your neighbors about how they feel about adding a bit of density in your neighborhood.

Thank you for being part of that discussion!!