Mayor of Austin, Steve Adler, on the Affordability Challenges His City Faces
Ten years of economic growth, lowest unemployment level in Texas (2.1% in May 2019), dramatic in-migration of people and companies — who wouldn’t want to live in a city like this? From least expensive Texas city to the most expensive in just 10 years, highest average rents in the state, highest teacher turnover, most unfilled medical jobs — who would want to live in a city like that?
They are the same city: Austin, Texas.
It used to be that housing affordability was a challenge only faced by those at the lowest end of the economic spectrum. Due to spectacular growth, affordability is now affecting the workers that make the city itself work — teachers, first responders, medical workers, and entry-level professionals — as well as the musicians and artists that give Austin its world-renowned character. To meet the housing demands of a population expanding by 150 people each day, existing older apartment buildings are being renovated to appeal to those willing and able to pay more.
The result? Fewer affordable apartment units for those in the workforce. Local experts estimate that 60,000 workforce affordable units exist in Austin but 5,000 of those are disappearing each year.
Studies by HousingWorks and the Urban Land Institute point toward challenges facing Austin and how the economic boom has caused displacement, gentrification, and minority outward migration from the City. Among these are workers who are critical to Austin’s continued success and providing affordable workforce housing close to transit, jobs, schools, and food options is what it takes to keep them. Preservation of affordable apartment homes is one of the more effective and efficient ways to meet this need.
Without action on affordability, we can see the future of Austin in more expensive cities where the only housing that exists in those cities is attainable for the rich or subsidized for the poor. Austin has a chance to change its future if it addresses affordability now. When elected, I pledged to lead the effort.
In 2018, to meet the housing need, Austin City Council passed a $250 million housing bond (the largest bond ever in Austin) and the Austin Housing Conservancy Fund was launched the same year to preserve multifamily housing for Austin’s core workforce. Both private market and public institutions can work to meet our City’s needs. I am proud of the innovative ways our citizens and public officials have worked together to create solutions that are uniquely Austin.
Mayor Steve Adler was sworn into office in January 2015 and has focused primarily on Austin’s growing affordability crisis and worsening traffic. For over 20 years before that, he worked with and chaired many of Austin’s large civic and nonprofit boards and has spent a lifetime fighting for equity, access, fairness, and opportunity.