The Problem with Austin NIMBYnomics

One of the more exasperating aspects of debating Austin’s housing supply is the confused economic assumptions of Austin NIMBYnomics. Specifically, there is a troubling blindspot about the economic reasoning that guides the humans that build and refurbish housing.

Often, developers are described as ‘greedy’ (which is a way of saying they are making too high a profit relative to the externalities they produce).  Interestingly, many anti-development advocates believe that the same ‘greedy’ developers that produce certain types of development (‘stealth dorms’, large high rises) will recalibrate and build the ‘right kind’ of multi-family if we just place enough constraints on what they can do.

The main Austin housing problem is that there are not enough places in the core to build multi-family without regulatory and political risk.  So, we get a “missing middle” of housing development.

missing_middleImage courtesy of Opticos Design

This in turn means population loss in the core as those with more disposable income (e.g. professional couples with no kids, older residents without children) outbid families with kids in the core.


Tragically, the housing types in the “missing middle” are exactly what many of the anti-development advocates allude to as being the outcome they would like.  In their view, the preferred solution is to regulate the market enough to narrow the options available to the developers so that they get to work on creating housing the Austin NIMBY coalition would like.  For example, here’s the Daily Texan echoing anti-development advocates in its endorsement of lower occupancy limits:

Right now, it’s cheaper for developers to build  stealth dorms on single-family zoned property than to build true, high density multi-family housing, which by law must include adequate parking, dumpsters for trash, sprinkler systems and other amenities. This amendment will effectively eliminate the financial incentive to build  stealth dorms and will, in turn, encourage developers to invest in building on upzoned properties that are suited for high-density housing.

The assumption is that the actual humans that are proficient at redeveloping a single-family house or duplex to accommodate a lot of roommates is going to be good at navigating the process for missing middle, low-unit multi-family.  This is a flawed assumption.

For starters, even anti-development advocates concede that there’s limited capital appetite for this type of development.  The small operators are unlikely to have enough personal capital to take on the missing middle type developments.  Perhaps it is possible that they will reset their skills and find new sources of financing somewhere.  But, my intuition is that they will instead just remodel houses for the most affluent buyers or most affluent renters they can fit within the occupancy limit. That’s easier money than trying to sell capital, neighbors, and regulatory officials on missing middle housing. This by the way, is the empirical reality and precisely why we don’t have the missing middle.  These small-time developer folk are greedy after all, so why are they going to take on risk when there are simpler ways to make money? Some might just exit and pick stocks or invest in franchises and so on.

Now, let’s consider the other side of the spectrum.  The different development firms and sources of capital that produce large complexes certainly have the skills and money to tackle the missing middle.  But why don’t they? Well, because there’s not an attractive ROI in it, obviously.  If you are going to take on development risk, why do it for some relatively minor project? If you are a leader at such a firm, you still have to make time in your schedule for selecting designs, meeting with capital, dealing with the politics whether the project has 1x units or 5x units.  So, it makes sense to go for 5x.

Even worse for the NIMBY argument, the capital providers have many, many options.  Capital can fund sprawling developments in our region (and boy, does it!) or skip it altogether.  Whereas the skills of a large developer might make it consider going down to the missing middle, capital isn’t locked in that way.  It’s happy to lend to sprawl or luxury or even cycle out of the real estate asset class.  So sure, the ‘California Developers’ might have to hustle a little harder to find some new ways of making money and consider building some of the Austin missing middle, but CalPERS and Wells Fargo don’t care.  They’ll just fund something else.  Sadly, if capital skips Austin, we are stuck with less housing.

Markets are productive but temperamental beasts.  As a progressive, I feel just fine launching market interventions to ensure that markets work or achieve my personal preferences in terms of fairness.  So, my concern about Austin NIMBYnomics is not about a normative objection; intervention in the market is acceptable to me.  Rather, it’s a design issue.

The problem with Austin NIMBYnomics is that there are not currently enough human beings or sources of capital interested in building an Austin “incremental growth” vision given the policy and aesthetic design preferences of our city’s anti-housing activists. Do I absolutely love the architecture of every ‘stealth dorm’, or the interaction of every high rise with its surrounding environment? Do I cherish the sounds of construction in my neighbhorhood? Well, no.  But I find sprawl and the unnecessary immiseration of every Austinite – including the most vulnerable working poor – much, much worse.

The market design being kluged together by anti-housing forces through their policy victories at council is failing to build adequate supply that produces widespread housing affordability. It contributes to sprawl.  It’s not likely to generate new types of developers or sources of capital that can produce the missing middle.  As long as the region grows, development will continue: large buildings in corridors, demolitions of old houses to build the most expensive detached-homes the market will clear, and even more sprawl.  That doesn’t seem like the best way to preserve Austin’s character.

A proper, market-friendly solution would require easier, by-right duplex, quadplex, and “granny flat” development in neighborhoods near the core. Additionally, solving Austin’s housing needs requires reforming existing parking requirements, as well as broader liberalization of the land development code to facilitate incremental density and better street grids throughout the city.  There might be a place for supporting smaller developers in upgrading their skills and professional connections to take on missing middle approaches.  In addition to these market design options, an effective “social democratic” response  would focus on creating a publicly-governed, non-profit “missing middle” housing development corporation and tax Austinites to fund development if private capital continued their disinterest in building those types of developments. And it goes without saying that we need to optimize the allocation of our scarce transit resources to support housing development that is dense, and not car-dependent.


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35 Responses to The Problem with Austin NIMBYnomics

  1. Ellie says:

    I agree that we need housing solutions and I am not averse to multi-family higher density projects on large corridors. However, that is not going to solve the traffic problem. Transit is a serious issue and it is not just as simple as a “build it and they will ride it” mass transit solution. It is hard to change people’s behaviors and most Austin residents are not accustomed to a car-free lifestyle.

    How about creating economic incentives to encourage public transportation use over private vehicles? We could start with gasoline prices in the $6-7/gallon range; alternate street side parking rules; reduce parking lots by using areas currently used for private vehicle storage to build high-density housing; and increased insurance prices (car insurance is usually much higher in urban areas). We might find that there is more land available in the city for housing when the car dealerships move out of town because nobody is buying cars. Maybe eventually we could even create a core zone toll like London has done.

    We might even find that there are more people willing to ride bicycles with fewer cars and bad drivers on the roads.

    • mdahmus says:

      Throwing in multiple suggestions that Austin has precisely zero power to implement is not the best sign of a serious response.

    • Caleb says:

      Not sure if satire….

    • Dan Keshet says:

      What policies would you suggest that the City or County adopt that would raise gasoline prices to $6-7, reduce parking lots, or increase insurance prices? As far as I know, state law doesn’t allow the city to levy a gas tax. Regarding parking, we could eliminate minimum parking rules. That’s something I definitely support, but it’s only had a marginal effect so far downtown and in the TODs where it’s happened.

      • One thing the city could do is start charging for curb cuts. A simple per foot lease of the public right-of-way would work.

        Start in the highest demand areas – say DT and in Parking Benefit Districts, then work our way out into adjacent neighborhoods. The case in the high demand areas would largely be driven by the forgone revenue of on-street parking, but even in the areas with lowest demand for on-street parking, the presence of private curb cuts raises the public costs to the city when it has to do utility work. The only way to internalize that externality is to charge the beneficiaries for their use of that public asset.

        I haven’t done any modeling, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it could also raise a ton of revenue that could be spent on other (non-car) transportation-related investment.

    • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Ellie. When you say that you support multi-family in corridors, if I am hearing you correctly, you are arguing those parcels are the correct place for substantial density. And it seems implied that with time, they will be developed and the affordability squeeze will be over.

      Assuming that’s your argument, here’s the issue. Since that type of development is already entitled, it’s not a solution to resolving household affordability while the region continues growing. Sure, fancy buildings are getting built. But they are such a drop in the bucket. The real housing that is satiating the regional demand is getting added through sprawl. That’s all the green in the map above. The green doesn’t represent the color of the physical environment – it represents the thousands and thousands of people moving into those tracts at the periphery.

      So, status quo multi-family is not enough. Nowhere near enough. We’ve got about 350k housing units citywide housing 830k people in a very tight market. We’d need a sudden burst of 15k or so units on top of matching expected growth to give the buyers/renters back bargaining power. How do you think we get that 15k? The status quo policies clearly can’t do it; they just aren’t going to produce that type of burst that gets us back to affordability and counter expected sprawl. Perhaps you find our current levels of sprawl and affordability issues acceptable; but if not, then you should outline the solutions that can get us building the capacity within the core to absorb the regional demand in a compact connected way. Pointing to the status quo policy and development economics that is on the books and clearly failing at that task as the last census demonstrates is not an actual solution.

  2. Ellie says:

    I’m pretty serious about reducing reliance on personal automobiles through economic incentives. I’d rather live in a Chicago, NYC, or San Francisco type of urban setting than an LA or Atlanta traffic nightmare. Portland, OR also has done a good job of creating a city where people do not rely solely on personal automobiles.

    Also, I’m curious about the experience of people in this blog group as it relates to the following:

    1) Do you have significant (at least one year) experience as a resident of a large, urban area? How does this experience help shape your views of a future Austin?

    1) a. If you do have direct experience living in a large urban area, did you have a personal automobile? What was your monthly budget? How did you use the personal automobile?

    1) b. If you do have direct experience living in a large urban area, did you live in a multi-family dwelling or a single-family structure? What was the character of the surrounding neighborhood? When were the buildings constructed?

    2) Do you live in a single-family home in Austin? Why or why not?

    3) Do you have a personal automobile? Why or why not? How would you characterize your use of your personal automobile?

    4) Do you take 6 or more trips a week on mass transit? Why or why not?

    • letsgola says:

      Thanks for mentioning us! We’re always happy to embody someone’s distopyian vision 😉

    • I’m not really clear what this has to do with Julio’s post, but I suspect you’ll find we all agree with the reducing auto dependency. The trick is, you have to get dense BEFORE alternatives (like good transit) become truly viable. The University of California Transportation Center has estimated the lower limit of density necessary to support light rail at 27 du/ac. That’s about four times as dense as our standard SF-3 zoning, or twice as dense if an accessory dwelling is built as well.

      If you want an NYC or SF type of city, you should support a broad up zoning of our urban core neighborhoods. And I don’t mean along the major corridors. I mean IN the neighborhoods. I too would like to see Austin become something like Brooklyn, where I believe you’ve said in other forums that you previously called home.

      In old urban spaces the density is in the neighborhoods and the corridors are often LESS dense on account of commercial and industrial uses. In Brooklyn, see Atlantic Ave, 4th Ave, Grand Ave, etc, etc. Lots of non-residential uses, and so not very dense, but go a couple blocks off any of those and you’ll find low and mid-rise apartment buildings up to 5-7 floors that are denser than the 208m Austonian. Yes, there are high rises going up in downtown Brooklyn and on the Williamsburg waterfront, but that’s only necessary because they’re now following our model: much of the outer neighborhoods were downzoned to “preserve the neighborhood character.”

      P.S. Although you describe it as “traffic nightmare,” LA’s transit mode share (11%) is basically on par with Portland’s (12%).

    • Brennan says:

      1) Grew up in Austin, lived in NYC for 3 yrs (Bklyn, Queens, and a brief but painfully expensive sublet in Manhattan), Ft Worth 3 yrs, & New Orleans for 3 years, and moved back about 4 years ago.

      2) No car in NYC, just buses/subways. lived in single family in Queens for a year or so, rest was small apartments. Queens was suburban by NY standards, but much more dense than they allow in Austin with very few exceptions. Manhattan – mostly mid-sized apt bldgs. Brooklyn – brownstones, mostly 2-3 units each. Again, the least dense housing was much more dense than you can build nearly anywhere in Austin. In Ft Worth, I had a car b/c you can’t get anywhere without it. In New Orleans, where I moved with my wife, I sold my car immediately, and we lived with one car. NOLA is pretty small and dense, not due to high rises, but b/c houses are built close together, and population is only around 350-400K. I walked a lot, and often took the trolley.

      3) Live in single family in Austin right now, but started off in an apartment for the first year. We’re not devoted to the single family house, but we had a kid, thought we should at least think about a yard, and we have the credit and the money to afford it.

      Plus, we bought last year during historically low interest rates and right at the beginning of the crazy run-up in prices in the housing market. Since we want to stay in Austin, might as well lock in low housing costs now, given that NIMBYism and growth are conspiring to raise prices for the forseeable future. We’ve probably seen a 15% increase in value in our property since we bought less than a year ago, given what we’re seeing comparable houses going for.

      4) My wife and I have a 1 car household, with a toddler. I generally commute to work by the bus, bike, and I resort to Car2Go if I’m feeling lazy/running late/miserable weather. If you combine those modes, I’m doing some form of transit at least 6X week. Operating costs for our one car are the same as Car2Go/public transit/bike maintenance bills when added up, so no need to buy another car, at least not for the current levels of hassle. I’m on the 21 bus a lot (someday I dream of rail down MLK or maybe Manor, but I know density likely doesn’t support it, yet).

      So all told, I think I have some street cred here! You want fewer cars on the road? Do as you suggest and eliminate mandatory parking, but you’ve also got to allow high density growth in Hyde Park, Travis Heights, Allandale, and the like. Lets fill those 801 buses and eventually build rail down Lamar and then south of the river, and get those new residents out of their cars. We’ve got enough people moving in from the East Coast and Bay Area that aren’t afraid of public transit and biking, they just have to know that they can get to the stuff they need.

      Austin has no power over gas, and no power over insurance prices. Private actors own most parking garages, so unless there’s an economic incentive to turn them into housing, they won’t.

      Also, love to see your answers to your own questions if you want to make arguments from personal experience.

    • It seems like you are implying that if someone hasn’t lived in a “city” or solely relied on public transit, their opinion carries less weight than yours does. If a person has lived their whole life in Texas, then they probably don’t fit your profile, but that doesn’t mean their perspective or desires are less valid. I have lived in a “city” (London for a year), I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have much money (I was a student and I didn’t use a credit card). I mostly walked, occasionally rode the bus, and very occasionally rode the Tube (a treat, since I was on a restricted budget). It was a great experience and formed a lot of my opinions about urbanism and transit, but I don’t think the fact that I experienced it first-hand makes my opinion more valid than someone else who’s just visited or even read about other places.

      I have a car now and drive it every day, because there’s no way for me to get to my job on 360 without it. My wife and I just bought what’s technically a condo in Crestview last year, but it looks and feels like a detached single family home. We jointly own the lot with the other condo owner. Before that we lived in a fourplex in Clarksville. We wanted to be in a walkable neighborhood with good transit access, and fortunately we were able to find a place that met that criteria that we could afford. I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand for those types of residences and neighborhoods, but due to supply restrictions, the fact of the matter is that in Austin, those types of communities are mostly difficult to afford.

      One goal we should have is making those types of neighborhoods attainable to everyone who wants them. We should also promote policies that discourage sprawl and environmental destruction. I feel that these are all values that a lot of Austinites would support.

  3. Novacek says:

    “However, that is not going to solve the traffic problem.”

    Solve, no. But it will certainly help. If you (hypothetically) half the distance of everyone’s commutes (which having more housing closer to job centers does), that halves the total traffic. If you have significant populations within reasonable walking/biking distance of either work or errands, that improves traffic. If you have greater populations close to transit routes, that makes it easier to serve them with real, actual, useful transit. (if you double the population density, you can serve them with twice the frequency of transit for the same cost).

  4. Have you ever actually driven through North University and Hyde Park??? The neighborhood is full of all these types of supposedly missing middle housing types!

    • You mean the small old apartments that are at the end of their useful life but can’t be torn down and rebuilt to the same (or greater) density because it’s no longer legal?

      • Ellie says:

        I don’t have time yet for a long response–but Steven–are you seriously saying that a building like the Duval Villa (across from Asti) is at the end of its useful life? In your earlier comment you mentioned Brooklyn neighborhoods–I lived in a house built in the 1890s like all the others around it. Cities are made up of layers; old and new coexisting while creating a new era while respecting the character of the neighborhood.

        Are you seriously suggesting tearing down a useful building like the Duval Villa apartments and building something else because you want it to have more units? You know that the something else would be much more expensive, right?

        Have you ever lived in a city?

    • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

      I have driven through both.

      For 78751 in 2011, there were 8,260 housing units. Of those, 379 had 4 bedrooms or more. I understand that 4.6% might seem like it’s full of missing middle housing given your expectations of what the neighborhood should be. To me, that seems that the neighborhood is overwhelmingly conventional single family homes, and not full of the missing middle.

      You can peruse the data in this pro-occupancy limit reduction paper:

      Click to access Family_Displacement_in_Central_Austin.pdf

    • mdahmus says:

      George, there’s no rowhouses in NUNA/HP; there’s hardly any of the other types either, and the neighborhood plan ensured there would never be any more, nor could the ones we have now be rebuilt under current law.

  5. Brennan says:

    Ellie, you’re constantly mistaking the individual effect for the aggregate effect, and its a little irritating. Yeah, someone redevelops one apartment, puts more units, in the middle of central Austin, those apartments are going to go for a lot more. If 100 of those multifamily apartments bldgs get redeveloped and double the number of units in Hyde Park, plus another 100 in Travis Heights, plus another 100 Allandale, etc, and there’s systematic widespread upzoning, there’s a chance that we might actually keep prices stable, and create the kind of lovely street scene you can get in Brooklyn!

    My parents have lived next to the same 8 unit apartment bldg in Hyde Park for 20+ years, and its genuinely getting a little raggedy, and some of the tenants are having problems with plumbing. So maybe Duval Villa is fine, but not all of them are. I looked at a condo in Hyde Park that had been converted from an old apartment building. Same thing – we wouldn’t take it because the likelihood of it getting bad quickly seemed high, based on brief, non-expert visit.

    also, old NYC tenements were built in many cases with brick and other durable materials. Most older apts in Austin are wood. The bones are just a lot stronger, higher quality than mid-20th century built on the cheap apartments.

    • Ellie says:

      Hi Brennan,

      You do have street cred! I asked those questions because transportation choices are often based on habits. You and I have mass transit habits based on our previous experiences in urban areas. Simply creating more housing units and hoping that residents take mass transit instead of driving is wishful thinking. If that were the case, and simply having access to mass transit meant people would use it, then we would have a lot fewer cars on the roads. It is very difficult to change people’s habits which is why we need economic incentives to encourage people to use mass transit rather than personal automobiles.

      [Warning: PERSONAL ANECDOTE!!!!

      I live .4 miles from the bus stop. I walk there every weekday and last semester I would frequently see a young man leave his house (at the end of my street) and get into an SUV as I walked by. After a while I realized he was driving to the bus stop and parking there as I walked there and then we would often be on the same bus to campus. I wondered if he was injured or recovering from something. It went on and on for months. Finally I asked him why he was driving to the bus stop and he said it was because he would miss the bus if he walked to the bus stop. The bus (UT Shuttle) comes every 5-7 minutes. I don’t think this is unusual behavior. This is a car city and a car state.]

      So people have a preference to drive their own cars and it also seems there is a preference for single family housing. One could argue that we should build MORE single family homes in the central core so that the prices are driven down and more families like yours could afford to live wherever you’d like. Maybe we could also try to keep the stock of affordable homes built prior to 1980 out of the hands of developers who are tearing them down and building cheap structures that bring in $6400 a month in rental income.

      I’m simply trying to bring human behavior into the equation. There is a lot of discussion about building types and zoning, but it seems like many of the people who promote massive upzoning of the central core live in single family houses and enjoy using personal automobiles. Maybe there isn’t such a market for the MF housing that everyone wants and that is why developers aren’t building it to a high degree.

      At this point in my life, I do have a preference for living in a single family house in a single family zoned area and there is nothing wrong with that. At the end of my block is a multifamily condo unit and several other multi family structures that preserve the character of the single family neighborhood. I love it. There are also many many multifamily apartment buildings a few blocks away with very affordable rents (and pools!).

      My life story:

      1) I lived in NYC from roughly 1992 to 2008. (There were stints in Florida, Mexico, Paris and Madagascar.)
      2) I really hate to drive. I did not own a car from 1992 to 2011. I moved to Austin in 2008 and lived in a condo for the first year up on Lamar and Morrow. I took the 1L/M to work and rode other bus lines to get around. My boyfriend (now husband) had a car that I would borrow if I really really needed to get to a work meeting. I bought a truck in 2011 to haul things for my garden and yard of my single family house that I moved into in 2009. I have put 3K miles on the truck since July 2011.
      3) I take the bus pretty much everywhere. I did use Car2Go when it first arrived but there were so many problems in the summer of 2011 that I kinda gave up on it. Anyway, I’d rather read on a bus than drive.

      I hope that we can have more mixed-income multi-family housing. It makes me sad to think of all the displaced families who got kicked out of older multifamily housing on E Riverside so that developers could build shiny new buildings for rich people. I’d like to see us all work together to bring more federal funding to Austin for affordable housing for people who are 30%, 50% and 80% of MFI.

      • They’re not building it because it’s illegal. There may be a market preference for single-family homes, even in the urban core, but you can’t claim there’s any revealed preference for it when the entire system is backstopped by draconian regulations that make it impossible to build anything else.

        Yes, I own a single family home. I bought it the same year you bought yours. It also has a garage apartment that I rent. I could finish out the ground-floor garage in a month to make a 3rd unit, but no, that’s illegal. I’d also scrape the lot (they’re both functionally obsolete structures with issues that go all the way to the bones) and build a 5-15 unit walk-up apartment building in a heartbeat. If I did (obviously I can’t, that’s not legal either), and my neighbors wanted to keep their single-family homes, that’s fine. I have no desire to tell anyone else how they should live. I just want to give people the option to do with their land as they see fit.

        The point is that you can’t claim people are freely choosing something when the only choice you’re offering them is a constricted supply of one type of housing.

      • “…but it seems like many of the people who promote massive upzoning of the central core live in single family houses and enjoy using personal automobiles.”

        I rent a unit in an old house that got carved into a 4-plex. I own a car, but I don’t drive it more than once a week or so.

        I live literally across the street from my work, and my neighborhood is full of shops and restaurants, so I walk everywhere. It’s a fantastic lifestyle; I just wish more Austinites had the opportunity to enjoy it.

        “I do have a preference for living in … a single family zoned area and there is nothing wrong with that.”

        Because of your personal (aesthetic?) preferences, you support policies that encourage sprawl, that are bad for the city of Austin, for the planet Earth, and for low and middle income renters. I’m sorry, but as far as I’m concerned, there is definitely something wrong with that.

  6. Ellie says:

    I can’t figure out if you have buyer’s remorse or just want the entire city to be planned willy-nilly with zoning or codes.

    It sounds like you have a lot of capital if you are talking about building a 5-15 unit walkup apartment building. Why did you and your parents buy a single-family house instead of a multi-family dwelling or lot if that’s what you want?

    Is it perhaps because older, single-family houses cost less than newer single-family homes and multi-family dwellings? That is what makes the loss of AFFORDABLE (you and your parents must have found yours to be affordable) older single-family homes problematic.

    • syarak says:

      Ellie, I just messages you on Facebook and am posting it here for a persistent record:

      “I’m done playing whack-a-mole with you on blog comments. If you want to have a good faith discussion (not constantly changing the subject and/or not responding to previous arguments), let’s me for coffee. What’s your availability next week?”

      • Ellie says:

        The proposed new order I see here is that single-family neighborhoods must go the way of dial-up internet. Density=Affordability. Density=Mass transit. Supply/demand=affordability. There’s more to it than these simple statements. People plus building and zoning regulations equal cities. We need to think about both when espousing cures for Austin woes. For better or worse, home ownership is a huge part of American culture. Social, financial, and psychological factors go into owning a home in America. And older, single family homes in the center city are more affordable than newer construction. Tearing down houses and chopping down the urban canopy when there are empty parking lots and underused space on corridors doesn’t make sense. Have you read about Vancouver’s Ecodensity program? Or looked at reports of many (including Boston) cities using occupancy limits as a way to preserve single-family neighborhoods? It is eerie how the same sentiments and proposals have been discussed; the difference is that we can learn from other cities about what works and what doesn’t work.

        I’m curious to see if we will have a Project Connect bond vote in November and how it will play out. The highest voter turnout is from residents in single-family homes in the center core. Vilifying single family homeowners as selfish, or NIMBYish, or hating planet Earth certainly can’t be a good strategy for promoting mass transit in Austin.

        As an aside–have you (or anyone on this blog) ever been to Brasilia? I would love to talk about our experiences as visiting is a pretty interesting way to see a city planning theory in a “pure form” since it was built from scratch.

      • mdahmus says:

        “And older, single family homes in the center city are more affordable than newer construction.”

        You can keep repeating this all you want. It doesn’t make it any less sleazily dishonest.

      • Ellie says:

        I have MLS sales and rental data that I’m happy to share when it is formatted.

        Also see this for a look at Vancouver’s failed experiment.

        Wendy Sarkissian, an Australian planner and consultant reviewed EcoDensity – 2014:

        “As state governments in Australia try to find ways to sell increased housing densities to a reluctant public and recalcitrant local councils, one model has slipped into the conversation that should, in my view, quietly slip away. That’s the recent Vancouver invention of EcoDensity. This failed housing density initiative with a dodgy pedigree is being touted by visiting Vancouverism boosters as one of the answers to our housing density needs. Nothing could be further from the truth, as a significant amount of recent scholarly and practical research reveals.”

        “A 2007 staff report agreed that the “trickle-down” effect would not work for housing affordability. If they were referring to so-called “filtering” (i.e., the concept in housing research that older residences, once sold by their owners so they can downsize, move into a retirement community, etc., become available as affordable housing to younger buyers), they were right that it simply doesn’t function in Vancouver’s housing market.”

        “What people feared was not density but overcrowding. Community concerns focused on problems associated with very dense neighbourhoods and what was coined “green overcrowding” (density without amenity). The policy was seen as greenwashing of developers’ agenda. Critics were concerned that EcoDensity would sacrifice liveability and that led to anxiety and open protests in a number of neighbourhoods.”


      • mdahmus says:

        Ellie, nothing you say in rebuttal is remotely compelling. Filtering IS an accepted phenomenon; and Vancouver’s housing affordability is a problem precisely because not enough new housing was built. So I’m going back to this:

        “And older, single family homes in the center city are more affordable than newer construction.”

        You can keep repeating this all you want. It doesn’t make it any less sleazily dishonest.

  7. Brennan Griffin says:

    “And older, single family homes in the center city are more affordable than newer construction.”

    Um, Ellie, do you know what older single family homes in Hyde Park go for compared to new builds in further east Austin? Not more affordable, I can assure you. A very small house in disrepair across the street from my parent’s house in Hyde Park (<800 sq ft, no actual oven!) went for more than $300K last year. A brand new modern build we looked at near 183 in East Austin, 1600+ sq feet + big yard went for $275K. Old does not equal affordable, new does not always = expensive.

    • Ellie says:

      My apologies for not being more clear in my post. I am not trying to compare homes across neighborhoods. What are the top three things to remember about real estate? Location, location, location.

      I’m taking a pledge not to use the A-word (affordable) anymore unless I am truly talking about affordable housing built and sold/rented at prices for the 30%, 50% and 80% MFI ranges.

      So, what I meant is that overall–in the same neighborhood–older homes cost less than newer homes in the same neighborhood. I have a graph of MLS data from 78751 that shows the sale prices of homes by the decade in which they were built. Older homes were priced lower than newer homes. Unfortunately, I cannot figure out how to post this graph in the comments.

      What is the zip code near 183 in East Austin? I wonder what we would find regarding new vs older home prices there?

      • mdahmus says:

        Newer construction will of course sell for more than older construction in the same exact place. If you spell it out like that, you’re not being quite as slimily misleading.

        The thing you now have to show to prove your implied premise is that the older construction would not be replaced with newer construction without the rules you just got changed; or that the older construction would not increase in price if newer construction were not an option. As the owner of some old (cheaper) construction in OWANA, I can tell you that the rent I can charge is definitely held down when new buildings are built in the area; and when they are not, the rent I can charge for my older, more affordable, unit goes up.

      • “So, what I meant is that overall–in the same neighborhood–older homes cost less than newer homes in the same neighborhood.”

        This is completely uncontroversial. No one disputes this. It is, however, irrelevant.

        The important question is whether the measures you support (reducing occupancy limits, preventing construction of new MF in your neighborhood) will increase rents and encourage sprawl in Austin overall. I think that the measures that you support will increase rents and encourage sprawl in Austin, which is why I oppose them.

        Do you disagree, and think that the measures you support will have no effect on rents or sprawl in the aggregate? Or, do you acknowledge that the measures you support will cause rents to go up and building to go out, but you think that that is an acceptable price to pay for some other benefit?

  8. Pingback: Housing: NIMBYnomics and the Missing Middle | Price Tags

  9. It’s not just that the building regulations and restrictions (and attendant costs) discourage family housing — they discourage ALL development in downtown Austin. This prevents developers from undertaking all but the most profitable projects. It doesn’t make sense for a developer to undertake a low-rise family housing project when they can get 2X or 3X the return building a high-rise condo tower primarily for single people.

  10. Win Bent says:

    This article says NOTHING about water. I am all in favor of increasing density where appropriate – and I think many places are appropriate – but we do not have the water to support that many people in this geographic region. Find the water, and I’ll support your Bungalow Courts, Townhouses, and Courtyard Apartments.

  11. Just ran across this blog and post in a “Google search” for something else. Fascinating. I was born and raised in Austin and left going on 20 years now. And I had done my share of “crusading” in my day…starting with the “Comprehensive Drainage Fee” and “Transportation User Fee”…but I digress. Meanwhile, why did it take 3 months for the topic of “Water” to come up in this discussion? Frightening.

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