The recent population growth in Texas, particularly Austin, has been a great blessing. Businesses have been relocating here, bringing jobs, stimulating the economy, and making the city and surrounding areas more resilient to the economic hardship that the rest of the nation is facing. However, with the massive influx of recent arrivals coupled with unnecessarily burdensome policy, affordable housing has become increasingly scarce.
The basic principles of economics tell us that scarcity is what creates the value or price of a good or service. If there is more demand for something than there is supply, then the value or price is likely to increase. In typical laissez-faire capitalism, the market would react in a way for supply to meet demand and prices would stabilize. However, governments oftentimes get in the way of this principle through the policymaking process. But even they will, on occasion, see the error of their ways.
On Oct. 26, the Austin City Council will hold a public hearing on proposals that would remove zoning regulations that have stymied housing affordability.
First is a proposal introduced by Councilmember Leslie Pool earlier this year, referred to as the Home Options for Middle-Income Empowerment, or HOME, initiative. The thrust of this initiative is to reduce the minimum lot size required to build housing units. The HOME initiative cuts the minimum lot size from 5,000 square feet to 2,500 square feet. In addition to reducing the minimum lot size, the initiative would raise the cap on single-family units per lot from two to three.
Another proposal being considered would allow tiny homes, defined as a “small efficient space under 400 square feet,” as well as RVs to be built in single-family residential districts.
The third proposal being considered is not related to housing density but occupancy. Currently under zoning-based caps, any more than six unrelated adults are prohibited from occupying dwelling unit regardless of size, and any more than four unrelated adults are prohibited from occupying a single family or duplex site regardless of its size. These same restrictions are not applied to families. The proposal introduced by Councilmember Zo Qadri bases occupancy on square footage per person which “ensures health and safety and prevents overcrowding” regardless of if the people living together are related.
The Austin City Council public hearing on Oct. 26 is to ensure that the public is informed about these changes and how they will affect the community. The lack of communication on these issues led to protests and legal challenges in the past, so the city council will couple the public hearing with a mailing campaign. After the hearing, on Dec. 7, the city council will vote on each topic.
These proposals are based on the idea that the solution to the housing problem is not more government spending, but rather cutting the red tape that holds back free market innovation.