Housing remains a top focus as city leaders look ahead

Published 10:36 am Tuesday, February 28, 2017

When Austin city leaders talk economic development, one issue is still at the front of the discussions: housing shortages.

“As I look at economic development for initiatives for this coming year, I can’t get past the housing challenges that we still face as a community,” City Administrator Craig Clark said.

Clark updated the City Council Monday on looming discussions on how to best spark housing projects in Austin during the first night of council’s annual retreat in the conference room of the Austin Utilities Service and Operations Center.



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Clark talked briefly about potential funding and economic incentive options to help entice developers to build in Austin.

“If we want to be serious about addressing the housing challenges, it’s going to take a monumental amount of resources,” Clark said.

Clark referenced a 2013 housing study that outlined the need for nearly 300 rental units and 118 single family units by 2020.

While Austin’s made some headway through things like the Science Park apartment project and a housing tax abatement, which has been offered in partnership with Mower County and Austin Public Schools, there’s still a long ways to go.

“The report on housing needs is still staring us in the face as far as 2020 and the need for that,” Clark said.

“We’re still sort of behind the eight ball for housing and addressing that,” he added.

Clark said the housing tax abatement saw a good start last year, but they’re waiting to see how it carries forward into the construction season.

Clark is working to develop a package of economic development incentives to offer potential developers.

The ad hoc committee identified attracting private developers to build housing projects as a key goal, but Clark said that’s proven difficult because wages and prevailing rents in Austin trend low, meaning developers see a hard return on their investment.

Clark would like to devote $25,000 to concept designs for a potential 40-unit apartment complex. The focus, Clark said, is on “making it simple for the developer to come to Austin” and step into a project and move it forward without the need for much initial leg work.

The city will face some decisions, Clark said, like: Should the city potentially own an apartment project or should it wait on private developers?

The city council will continue discussions on housing and other projects at the second night of its retreat on Wednesdays at the Austin Utilities site.