The city of Austin finally did something right.
On Thursday, Dec. 7, a supermajority on the Austin city council approved the first phase of the Home Options for Middle-Income Empowerment (HOME) initiative, which seeks to “allow up to three units on one single-family lot and would remove restrictions on how many nonrelated adults can live in a home.” A series of other related amendments were also added—some good, some bad. Still, on balance, the H.O.M.E. initiative lessens government interference in the housing market and creates an opportunity for market forces to meet soaring demand with increased supply.
The move toward market-friendly reforms is unusual for City Hall, which should tell you something about the severity of Austin’s affordability crisis and the utter failure of past progressive schemes. Harsh realities forced the city to this point.
For context, consider what city socialism, central planning, and NIMBY-ism hath wrought.
- In November 2021, the New York Times called Austin called Austin “one of the least affordable cities in America.”
- In September 2022, a Dwellsy report indicated that: “the Austin area saw an increase of 86% in the cost of monthly rent in the time period of August 2021 to August 2022…This metric makes Austin the No. 1 city across the U.S. to have the largest rent increase regardless of state or city.”
- In March 2023, a National Low Income Housing report ranked Austin as one of the worst cities in the nation for affordable rental homes for extremely low-income households.
- In November 2023, a Austin Board of Realtors report found that: “Over half of 4-person households (50.2%) in Travis County have a median family income of 80% MFI or less (annual income of $93,450 or less), yet fewer than 5% of homes sold in Travis County in the first half of 2023 were considered affordable to them.”
- On the city of Austin’s website today, officials say plainly that: “the affordability issue in Austin is dire…”
Clearly, the city’s progressive housing schemes failed to help ordinary Austinites. Instead, its proclivity to tax-and-regulate made things worse, especially for the poor, the elderly, and those trying to survive on fixed-incomes.
So it’s good to see city hall move in a different direction with its initial embrace of the H.O.M.E. initiative. Its next big test comes early next year when councilmembers are slated to take up Phase II of the plan, which involves “smaller lots sizes, missing middle housing choices and starter homes in the city.” It’ll be then that Austinites will really be able to see whether the city is serious about pursuing market-friendly housing reforms or if it’s going to fall back into its old, government-centric ways.