The Limits of Occupancy Limits

This Thursday, the Austin City Council will be voting on lowering occupancy limits across the city from six unrelated individuals per house to four. If the measure succeeds, it should serve as a concise example of the basic confusion about economics, innumeracy, and hypocrisy about affordability that mark current Austin affordability debates.

Instead of the typical swamp of emotionally-laden anecdotes about the dangers of six- unrelated-people-house-sharing  that seem to pervade both media coverage and discussion of this issue, let’s look at some data.

In 2000, there were 3,723 higher ed students in 78751 (the area seemingly most affected by ‘stealth dorms’).  The total population in 2000 for 78751 was 14,005.  So, the area was 27% students. In 2011, there were 4,760 higher ed students; the total population was 14,526. The area was 33% students.  So, if you are a resident of 78751, of the sixteen people living closest to you one went from being a non-student to a college student.  And by the way, four of the sixteen of them were already students.  That is what is being described as ‘bleeding’ a neighborhood.

The entire zip of 78751 now has to ‘contend’ with a shift  of 1,000 residents from non-students to higher ed students (labeled as ‘transients’ by some reduction proponents) over the last decade or so.  How many are actually living in units that have more than four unrelated residents? Let’s say all of them, just for the sake of argument. And let’s assume that every single one is somewhat messier than the long-term renter they replaced.  So, what does the lower occupancy limit do?

Expel 300 or so students from the zip code. That’s it.

That’s not going to change the fact that this zip is in demand because it’s next to/near the University and the core and we aren’t building enough supply.  Those are the real drivers of any perceived problem, not to mention unsatisfactory code or noise enforcement.

The occupancy reduction is not going to change the reality that 78751 already had a substantial student population and will continue to do so because it is right next to a major, growing university.  The proponents of this law admit that maybe there’s a few hundred homes exceeding the four person limit.  Therefore, we are talking about a tiny change in the the student share post-reduction to what was already a modest change in neighborhood composition.

Obviously, the reduction will not solve student-related quality of life issues in 78751. What it will do is create a whole new category of quality of life enforcement problems for a code enforcement operation that has real issues to deal with and that are actually linked to the preservation of affordable housing.  So, in order for a Hyde Park resident to make *really* sure that rowdy students’ girlfriend is not actually living there, we are going to be losing coverage of buildings with potential structural issues or staff time to actually move problem buildings into compliance. It’s not like this new enforcement burden is going to make the existing bureaucracy more productive at the tasks that actually matter.  We are destroying public value because we can’t look at the facts and make reasonable, data-driven judgements.

One supposed impact from allowing more than four unrelated people to live together is that single-family houses are being destroyed either because long-term owners are fleeing or because they are being demolished to make way for other ‘larger’ single-family homes that can be rented out. In 2000, there were 1909 owner-occupied units in 78751.  In 2011, there were 1,866.  A loss of 43.  That’s a 2% change.  Again, it seems inaccurate to describe this as substantial or meaningful change in neighborhood character. More accurately, it seems that some in this zip code are stubbornly committed to remaining absolutely identical in resident composition and architecture even though the evolution of the region makes the zip a prime location for multi-family that accommodates, you know, students.

One more thing: supposedly 78751 is not hospitable to families anymore.  It turns out that in 2000 there were 1478 kids in the zip. And in 2011, 1431.  Again, given the broader demographic changes in Austin and society (the US went from being 26% kids to 24%), this basically means the neighborhoods in the zip have the same character.

These policies will cost a few hundred renters some more money. Alas, because of the narrow focus and relatively limited size of our affordable housing bond, it seems this policy change by itself will wipe out the gains for this year (and perhaps beyond) from that investment.  It will not significantly change the fact that 78751 is going to be a quarter or so students regardless of the limits – there are going to be noisy students in Hyde Park.  But it will most certainly risk undermining code enforcement’s focus on actual problem properties.

Most troubling to me is what this says about the state of policy and policy-making in Austin.  The Planning Commission members that reviewed this policy implicitly acknowledged the utter lameness of it – as well as their collective inability to resist squeaky-wheelism – by placing a two-year sunset clause on their recommendation.

We have real (though not San Francisco-sized) affordability issues in Austin, but no ability to level with the electorate about the real solutions.  We need to build supply where people want it and that means that the parcels near the core will need to accommodate further changes in the types of buildings and uses near them.  Supporting those new types of buildings means we can’t focus our regional transit dollars disproportionately on facilitating commutes in from the suburbs and exurbs or on poorly-performing transit operations.  This vote will reveal the coherence and seriousness of the City’s policymakers in tackling affordability.

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92 Responses to The Limits of Occupancy Limits

  1. Pingback: What a Stealth Dorm Is - Page 10 - City-Data Forum

  2. Anonymous says:

    You seem to suggest that wiping out all SF-3 single family homes in the central core and turning them into stealth dorms would be appropriate. Do you care that little about families that already live in them? Should Austin forsake all of its historical roots for the sake of affordable housing for students?

  3. Framing occupancy limits in terms of students misses the mark completely and using data from 2011 hardly substantiates the conditions of any neighborhood today.

    What would a city that is “serious about tackling affordability” do? Maybe they could start by reviewing and re-writing the land development code; i.e. CodeNext.

    • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

      These are surprising arguments coming from a proponent of the reduction. The branding from proponents is ‘stealth dorms’. Hence, I am engaging on the student turf because that’s what has been raised. If the policy is not about reducing the quality of life concerns created by supposedly noisier and messier students, then what is it about then?

      As for the data, sure, it would be great to have 2014 data. Do the proponents have any to justify their claims? Please share! Perhaps you didn’t notice, but I linked to the data source proponents use precisely to engage in the debate on the data terrain most favorable to you. In terms of real-time data, all that I see are these notions that there are a lot of single-family demolitions; but historically (according to data from your allies), those have been replaced with owner-occcupied homes, suggesting that developers are tearing down worn buildings and replacing them with nicer (more profitable) construction that is still owner-occupied. Where’s the data that says any substantial amount of the residents in 78751 in 2014 are these problematic house-sharing situations the law targets? If you don’t like the data your own side cites, that’s a bit difficult for me to solve for you.

      I’ve already detailed what a serious affordability policy would look like in numerous other places.

      • Anonymous says:

        I am curious to see more data on how occupancy limits affect (for better or worse) actual rent prices. anecdotallly, we have experienced rent prices targeted towards roommate situations, often times pricing out families from the rental market and pushing families farther from the center of town.

      • Julio,

        You understand my position on density as narrowly as you’ve defined occupancy limits above; without a consideration for all of the diverse housing needs in neighborhoods close to the city core.

        I support more density appropriately placed in areas where they are compatible with existing single family neighborhoods. I also support efforts to reduce regulations on secondary structures for single family zoned properties where – I believe – this would offer existing residents an opportunity for additional income as property taxes rise and price them out of older neighborhoods while adding compatible density within neighborhoods.

        And, since the focus of your piece is on the 78751 zip code, we should recognize the following:

        1. The 51 already has higher density than other central Austin areas (see: http://www.socialexplorer.com/ – 2010 census block group for Austin, Texas)

        2. There are zoned, managed multi-family use development projects planned and on the way for Airport Blvd and Austin State Hospital – appropriate locations given their proximity to transit. Hancock Center could also be added to this list in my opinion.

        3. The most affordable housing options available in 78751 today are the purpose built, managed multi-family apartment complexes such as The Oaks on Duval which, as of yesterday, has both 1 and 2 BR options with a price point under $800 per room.

        Lastly, i would ask you to identify one city where high occupancy limits (6 or more) allowed for single family zoned properties has created affordable housing in the city core.

      • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

        1. OK. It seems we agree it should be denser. Cracking down on a few hundred folks on a few hundred units isn’t really going to change the density either way. I don’t bring up density. I talk about the hardship for those few hundred people and the hit to code enforcement operations.

        2. You’re still reducing the supply relative to the status quo and this rule doesn’t make development of MF easier. As you know, there’s a ‘missing middle’ of MF development that isn’t going to be dramatically altered by moving how a few hundred folks rent. On the other hand, those future pre-empted ‘stealth dorm’ renters and the already squeezed folks in the existing supply that they wil compete with will indeed feel the impacts.

        3. Great. So, fight for additional upzoning first and LDC changes that make smaller MF developments feasible instead of supply reduction first. What’s expected is nowhere near enough to bring rents down quickly; lower limits make the problem slightly worse.

        4. Austin. The future supply you will outlaw would support rents moving down to the ‘affordable housing’ level by reducing landlord bargaining power. Higher limits alone aren’t necessarily sufficient, but they can help. In Austin, higher occupancy limits support housing affordability. Look at Eric Goff’s personal story in the Statesman for a clear example of that.

        I hear you that you feel comfortable with more density in ‘the right place’ and that you believe we’ll get there with your envisioned sequencing of regulatory changes and advocacy (this first, LDC some day, neighborhood by neighborhood upzonings beyond that). I am not as optimistic given 10-1 and the existing orgs. We disagree on the sequencing of changes to optimize for the best balance of supply-generation and nuisance reduction. And we are organizing different constituencies.

      • From an ethical framework perspective, would it be accurate to characterize your approach as Utilitarian?

        Responses to your points:

        1. Should group home interests (MF use of SF property) for a few hundred people out-weigh the rights of existing families in these neighborhoods? Yet, I disagree that this is about a few hundred people or people in general. This is about a development trend that pushes families out of single family neighborhoods. It’s unplanned and un-managed multi-family use.

        2. Then let’s address the “missing middle” of MF development in a way that is compatible with SF neighborhoods. Regardless of your opinion on the primacy of property rights, co-existing in any given environment should be the goal. As we’ve seen in Northfield, super-duplex development for per unit rental does not achieve this co-existence.

        3. Occupancy limits first is the correct priority in my opinion. The reason is simple, once an old SF home is scraped for a new rental duplex – the SF use is lost and will not come back. Reigning in this loophole behavior first, then planning for compatible MF use and targeted upzoning can follow; i.e. CodeNext. It makes little sense to start a solo effort at the same time Opticos is ramping up for the new LDC.

        4. If higher occupancy limits create affordability in Austin then why are we faced with a housing affordability crisis? Indeed, there are no case examples I’m aware of that point to increased allowable occupancy creating better affordability. Not to mention the strain on infrastructure and city services that were never designed to accommodate the increased occupancy.

        The real problem is that the secret is out – Austin is a great place to live. The root of our problem is demand, not supply. There are many other factors besides increasing supply that determine affordability; such as income growth, consumer confidence, housing taxes and subsidies, jobs, and potential future price movement.

        Extending your ethical reasoning framework along these lines will result in the realization that the Utilitarian approach you’ve proposed fails other ethical theories such as Rule-Based morality and individual rights. Indeed, we can look to East Austin where minorities have been pushed out of their affordable neighborhoods by the same interests supported by increased occupancy. Likewise, asserting that some positive right to affordable housing trumps the negative rights of existing property owners is equally flawed.

        The solution is in the middle, where we can compromise in a way that allows the existing single family neighborhoods to survive in the inner city while planning for compatible multi-family density.

      • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

        These are good points and I’ll leave it there as I think the discussion is abundantly rich enough already for any folks that might want to read it as they form their own opinions.

        I do want to answer your question about my ‘ethical’ perspective since it is a novel one. If you look in the blog header image, the first book is ‘A Theory of Justice’ by John Rawls. So I’m not a utilitarian exactly, distributive justice matters. The transition from a limit of 6 to 4 violates ‘maximin’.

      • mdahmus says:

        Adrian, I reject the premise that there is a right to be protected from your neighbor’s renting out his home to 6 unrelated adults. That’s just one of many problems with the list that Julio apparently doesn’t see enough wrong with to continue to argue.

        It’s disingenuous to claim to be in favor of MF but only later and in poorly defined “over theres” which never coalesce into specific upzoning. You may actually be honest here! But most aren’t, and have been shown not to be, by their past actions; so at this point it’s ridiculous to expect the pro-density side to give up on occupancy limits without a firm commitment to upzoning to true MF elsewhere in the same general area (and, no, you can’t claim credit for properties already zoned VMU, for instance; that was the quid-pro-quo for McMansion – the last suburban housing intervention the density side lost on).

      • Thank you for the dialogue and for facilitating discourse on this issue Julio.

      • Mike,

        You’re a landlord in that you own rental properties, yes? How much do you charge for rent at your properties?

      • mdahmus says:

        My wife and I are landlords at our two previous homes; one is a condo and one is a single-family home, and we charge what we think we can reasonably get for the property. No, it doesn’t matter whether the property is depreciated or not (one of Scott Morris’, who I consider a friend in general, more silly notions). No, I’m not going to tell you more than that in this forum.

        By arguing against occupancy limit reductions, I am arguing against our own financial interest, as there is no doubt in my mind that reducing supply compared to demand (which is what this change does) would increase the amount we could charge for rent.

      • That’s one perspective on your rental situation. The other is that it will increase the total amount you charge by adding units which, when rented individually, are worth more than the structure as a whole.

      • mdahmus says:

        Your perspective flies in the face of basic economics, of course. But shine on, you crazy diamond.

      • Mike,

        Please enlighten me as to how “basic economics” dictates that real property is worth the same or less when sub-divided; keeping in mind that we’re talking about real estate, not some mass produced consumer good.

      • mdahmus says:

        We don’t subdivide our properties, i.e. rent by the bedroom, or ever intend to. Your side intends on reducing the number of people who can legally coexist in some properties that compete with us for tenants (renting by the bedroom is irrelevant to the market as a whole). There’s no logical world in which this won’t increase the amount of rent we can charge for our units.

      • If your personal experience as a landlord (and preference to rent property holistically) were the norm then I doubt this conversation (or issue) would exist.

        The problem, put simply, is that out of state real estate speculation results in the exploitation of single family neighborhoods for multi-family, group home use – particularly near campus – with the current occupancy limit set at 6.

        Unfortunately, this doesn’t fit the logical world you would idealize where use of this nature can co-exist with single family neighborhoods. Most of the folks I’ve talked with are willing to acknowledge this regardless of which side of the issue they fall on.

        Affordability is not a simple function of supply and demand. While they are factors in the equation it’s discrediting to claim that we can solve the problems with housing affordability by simply increasing supply. In my opinion, the affordability benefit a few may gain in the short term does not out weigh the numerous other infrastructure and social issues caused by MF use of SF property. Planning for density in areas that are compatible with this use is the logical approach to the portion of the housing affordability issue related to supply.

      • mdahmus says:

        No, the problem is that the unwillingness to provide true MF supply for decades has led to a real estate market where demand has so overshot supply that it’s squeezing out through so-called loopholes like stealth dorms.

        Adding supply there STILL increases affordability, but it’s not in the way you or I would prefer.

        The slim territory where we agree is simply that in an ideal world, we’d both see more MF and less stealth-dorms, whatever those are. But in the world we live in now, where not enough of that MF exists now by orders of magnitude and likely never will because of the same people fighting stealth dorms, lowering occupancy limits is a horrible, regressive, reactionary move which will make affordability much worse and help only those whose interests are in having fewer students live near them; people whose interests I have no interest in supporting.

      • Interesting note on the “not enough MF” argument, I was talking to a couple who just moved here from New York while walking the dog tonight. They moved into an apartment at 4505 Duval – The Oaks last month. I asked them if they had a hard time finding a place to live and they said that was the easiest part of their move.

        So, when you say there’s not enough supply to meet demand I take it with a grain of salt.

      • mdahmus says:

        The occupancy rate is around 96%. If you don’t care about price, you can always find a place to live.

      • The Oaks (where this couple easily found housing) rents 1 BR for about $800 and 2 BR (on special this week) for $1250.

        That incredible affordable for Hyde Park. When I called them this week they had availability immediately and 1 and 2 months out.

    • mdahmus says:

      Irrelevant anecdote. Occupancy rate in the city is at 96%. It could be that The Oaks isn’t a very nice place compared to single-family housing in the area or other multi-family housing for all I (or maybe you) know.

      • Mike,

        You’ll be in a position to claim relevancy when you confirm how affordable the nice places you own are to rent.

      • mdahmus says:

        Adrian,

        That’s really swell of you to drag my personal business into this.

        Our 2BR condo rents for a little more than the Oaks unit you mentioned above (while it’s on special). It’s also in a more desirable location. Hope this helps.

      • Mike,

        I’d be happy to agree to some ground rules for discourse that include courtesy, respect, and an aim to further the conversation through mutual understanding and dialogue.

        This would be a change for you given the tenor of your commentary and history of attacking those whose views you do not share.

        I’m absolutely open to the idea if you are.

      • mdahmus says:

        I categorically reject the implication that I have somehow behaved as badly as you have here, or even worse.

      • Mike,

        If you’d like, I can post some of the messages you sent dragging your neighbors personal situations into the fray when you disagreed with their positions.

        Would that help?

      • …or perhaps we could talk about the $10,000 tax exemption you claim for your historic landmark house in Hyde Park. Maybe you’d like to explain how it is you’ve become so loathe to the single family lifestyle and neighborhood charm you openly chastise and drudge through the mud?

        Do tell, I’m interested.

      • Honestly Mike, we probably have a lot more in common pertaining to transit and density than not; the problem is your condescending and “chippy” attitude towards anyone who tries to engage with you but has a different perspective.

        You like to stir the pot with negativity and vitriol; calling people that you’ve never met liars or ignorant. It start and end at the density issue either, but lately extends to particularly un-constructive and mean spirited comments to the folks at Capitol Metro and Project Connect. It would seem that when things don’t go the way you think they should, you like to lash out. As much as you or I might disagree with these folks, they have worked hard to put a plan together and they don’t deserve the disrespect of “transit advocates.” If you disagree, fine – but you could do it with a little more grace and tact and still make the same points.

        Indeed, when I suggested we agree to some rules of civility you chose the stick rather than the carrot. Well, here’s the stick Mike – you’re a hypocrite.

        “I find it sad, but sadly not surprising, that not one person has chimed up on the other side of this ‘attack’ issue. Frankly, if you live in central Austin and own an old house that DOESN’T have historic zoning (like me), you are subsidizing the wealthy folks both here in Hyde Park and in other distressed neighborhoods like Old Enfield and Pemberton who do.

        AISD in particular can not realistically afford these incredibly generous (and generous to the rich, rarely to anybody else) incentives which are, as today’s lawsuit points out, mostly not needed (or not demonstrably needed) anyways.”

        -Mike Dahmus posting to Hyde Park Yahoo Group on April 12, 2011

        https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/HydeParkAustin/conversations/messages/17315

        How’s that historic Hyde Park house and your tax exception agree with your stance on subsidizing the wealthy?

        Still, my offer stands, if you want to agree to some ground rules for more civil discourse – please let me know.

      • mdahmus says:

        Yes, Adrian, about a year ago we bought a house which was already historically zoned; which actually has historic merit by more than just the City of Austin’s standards; and willingly entered into a contract to give up certain development rights in return for a partial tax abatement.

        That’s quite a bit different from what was going on when that post was written – when houses in Old Enfield and Pemberton Heights were being historically zoned because they were big, expensive, and because a lady made a business out of doing other peoples’ paperwork for them. Those houses snuck through the city’s historic zoning process on dubious merit and never achieved recognition elsewhere (unlike whomever filed our house, decades ago).

        It’s also quite a bit different from the concept of the LHD – where people do NOT enter into development restrictions willingly, and do NOT get anything in return.

        Finally, kindly fuck off. You telling anybody else they’re snarky, chippy, or uncivil is like the jet-black pot calling the off-white kettle black.

      • mdahmus says:

        Also note that in the post Adrian found so horrible, I did not attack any individual by name. Note the difference between that and what he and Ellie Hanlon just did to me.

        You can’t have “personal attack” without “personal”. Adrian and Ellie made it personal. Congratulations, guys, you derailed the discussion, finally.

  4. Mike Wong says:

    1.The ordinance is about developers putting multi-family housing ins single family zoned areas.
    2.If there is a desire in the City to increase multi-family housing, then let’s pursue better ways of fulfilling that need.
    3.The ordinance was intentionally written to avoid displacement of existing occupants. The intent is not to displace students. The intent is to take away the developer’s incentive to build this particular type of construction.
    4.If occupancy were a key component of affordability, San Francisco would be the most affordable city in the US. Looking at nearly 100 cities across the US, San Francisco had the highest occupancy limits at 12.
    5. If affordability is your true concern, then you would realize this type of mult-family redevelopment is taking affordable homes off the market and replacing them with unaffordable ones.

    • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

      1. No, it’s about reducing the number of unrelated people that can share a single family house. I am fine with six, you prefer four. If you want to say that six is ‘multi-family’ that’s understandable as a political talking point, but you are using the distinctions of zoning language to avoid talking about the actual substantive implications. Moreover, is the problem neighborhood character destruction or zoning uniformity? If it’s the latter, then just codify the six adult limit in a way that satisfies whatever legal blurriness you perceive. Or upzone.

      2. Agreed. But multi-family is a mechanism for affordability, which is the real end, not multi-family in itself. A higher occupancy limit in single family is another tool.

      3. We agree you will succeed in taking away the incentive for the development, destroying one affordable supply option.

      4. Do you think San Francisco would be cheaper if the occupancy limit was 4, then? The limit is not determinative; it just is a tool that helps. San Francisco would be more expensive if the limit was 4.

      5. This is a tautology without any causal explanations. The ‘market’ wants rental and home-ownership units in 78751 at a pace you are not allowing. With lower occupancy limits, you will continue to get demolitions of worn single-family houses and replacements with more expensive owner-occupied homes (which is what the data says); the land is worth what the land is worth because of proximity to the core. Sure, you’ll have a few less student neighbors, but still pretty affluent home-owning neighbors. That won’t change because of occupancy limits.

      • The issue is that it is ***12*** on a single-family lot!

        [Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says: 'Which is why it is cheap, right? I am prioritizing affordability over your preferences about how many people may or may not live on a parcel designated as a single-family lot. It's fine if you want to destroy supply to preserve a certain vision of neighborhood quality of life. I am just outlining the consequences of that.']

  5. Ellie says:

    Stealth dorms are not examples of affordable (nor dense) housing. Affordable housing is defined as housing that does not exceed 30% of a household’s gross income. One side of a newly constructed duplex (with four bedrooms per side–already over the current occupancy limit) rents for $3200 per month.

    In order for that to be considered affordable, one would need an annual household income of $128,000. (I use a single household because the majority of “stealth dorms” are on SF-3 zoned property.) Even if one were to take each renter individually (I’m going to use 3 per side since that is the current occupancy limit), it would equate to an annual gross income of $42,666 for each of the renters.

    If we are going to have serious discussions about affordable housing and density, then it is time to stop calling stealth dorms single-family duplexes and get serious about multifamily construction with affordable units for those at lower-income levels.

    Stealth dorms are a way for real estate investors (mostly living out-of-state) to maximize profits and it results in the destruction of our current stock of single family homes in single-family zoned districts. And stealth dorms are not alleviating the lack of affordable housing or increasing density in the city center (cramming a lot of people onto one SF-3 lot does not equal increased density).

    We need to decrease the occupancy limits to take away the economic incentive of scraping single-family homes to build rooming houses under the guise of single-family duplexes. I hope you’ll join me in encouraging our city leaders to stop the destruction of affordable single-family homes in the city core.

    • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

      So how exactly are you proposing we support multi-family in your neighborhood? What are you going to upzone? Because the occupancy limit reduction is going to take away one existing source of supply without changing the rest of the zoning and development process which makes it very difficult to develop anything except large, capital-intensive complexes.

      Further, if you reduce the occupancy limits, developers are going to keep doing the demolitions but put newer buildings for relatively affluent owner-occupied home owners there. If you look at the data occupancy limit reduction proponents cite, that’s what’s been driving demolitions. The reason things are getting expensive is the value of the land because of the proximity to attractive uses. Affordability is not coming back unless you build supply.

      The day after this reduction passes, there will be less supply and the laws that govern supply creation will be just as broken.

      • Ellie says:

        I’d like to see more multifamily units in places that make sense. I’m encouraged by the new Waller Creekside on 51st development and hope that Cap Metro can add some additional buses to routes on Airport and Guadalupe to help people move around efficiently. Both areas are easy walks or bike rides from Waller Creekside.

        http://www.wallercreeksideon51st.com/floorplans/#/2-bed-2-bath-a-28

        And I look forward to participating in the Airport Blvd redevelopment.

        Stealth dorms are multi-family units masquerading as single-family homes. Frankly, they should be an embarrassment to anyone who supports affordable housing and increased density in the city core.

      • mdahmus says:

        Ellie, that 51st development was opposed by your neighbors at the time, as has every single multi-family development of consequence I can think of.

  6. deirdre717 says:

    It is tough to argue with a guy who just really doesn’t get what the occupancy problem is all about. I wonder if you, Mr. Blogger, have invested in a home in a wonderful family neighborhood just to see builders construct “houses” that are actually dorms next to you?? Duplexes have been allowed in some single family neighborhoods not because the city wished to allow stealth dorm construction. Hancock and Hyde Park and many other close-in neighborhoods have always had duplexes. What is being built now is not what the zoning intended. When leasing agencies suggest to leave a person off the lease to meet zoning requirements, something illegal is occurring as well. Statistics can be used to support all sorts of results. Everyone who has taken statistics has been made aware of this fact. I moved to my street 44 years ago as a renter. Four of us rented house two doors down from the house I bought; it was a three bedroom house. There is a duplex next to my house now and this doesn’t concern me. The owner keeps it up and rents to couples or two singles per side. He also thoroughly vets his tenants. He makes money and all is good. None of us mind well run and well kept duplexes. What we mind is the destroying of the things that make Austin a great city. Wonderful inner-city neighborhoods are being destroyed and will be regretted if not addressed and halted. This is not an affordability issue and never has been.

    • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

      If your argument is statistical nihilism and that your personal life anecdotes trump all other arguments, there’s not much I can say. Except this: my last name is not Blogger. It’s Gonzalez Altamirano.

  7. Ellie says:

    Oh, how could I forget the bus route on Duval is also nearby not to mention the IF UT shuttle! What a perfect location for dense multifamily development that includes proper parking, safety features (fire extinguishers, sprinklers), and property management! Not to mention, the units cost less than many stealth dorms.

    • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

      I don’t doubt that you are sincere about your commitment to multi-family, but that’s not what is being voted on Thursday. That vote is a supply restriction relative to the status quo.

      That you support some multi-family development that can exist under our existing status quo laws/Airport framework is not the same as supporting further liberalization from that base to accelerate development and get the affordability we actually need.

      If we combine your positions, you support a small supply restriction relative to the status quo direction. I was asking about where you support significant changes to allow accelerated supply provisioning in your neighborhood. The occupancy limits is not why faster development of multi-family is not happening in Austin and as I already covered, those types of small-scale developers will just demolish the houses and sell expensive owner-occupied units or increase their rents to the remaining renters.

      Your policy will immiserate a few hundred folks without making any worthwhile dent on how capital or developers act in Austin outside of a few edge cases.

  8. Idiotic post. The issue is the concentrated effect of stealth dorms on their immediate neighbors.

    • Let me make two points:

      1) Owner-occupied includes condos
      2) 78751 aggregates the area affected with the area protected by the Hyde Park neighborhood overlay.
      3) The proportion of the population that includes families with children EVEN IN YOUR FLAWED COMPARISON GROUP has declined sharply. You use raw numbers to hide this.

      • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

        1. I think that you are getting at that the development of condos is replacing the more traditional single-family detached homes and hence the neighborhood character is changing (?). That might be the case in terms of architecture, but it seems a stretch to argue that condo dwellers are a particularly messy and rowdy cohort.
        2. OK. Do you want to tease out the implication of that a bit?
        3. I provide the total population within the post, actually. Therefore, the percent that is kids goes from 10.6% in 2000 to 10% in 2011. I don’t see how this hides a ‘sharp’ decline.

    • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

      Welcome to the internet!

      I think the ‘concentrated effects’ you discuss concretely mean quality of life issues such as too many cars, garbage over-flowing, loud parties, etc. I get that. There’s also the issue of demolitions, but those are being driven by the demand for the land and the lack of supply. As repeatedly argued above, you might succeed in getting some of the redevelopment to switch from renting to ***12*** on the lot to renting to a smaller number, or maybe they will instead just sell the homes. You’ll definitely push people out. But the affordability won’t return as that land has a fundamental value in this market. Finally, the post discusses why the limited improvement you’ll gain on quality of life is not worth the loss in housing supply. And if you are arguing that there’s a bunch of houses where it’s 12 to the lot that you are going to obliterate, that just fuels my point: you are not affecting that many problem properties, you are still going to have a lot of student neighbors, but there’s a few hundred folks now scramming into a very tight rental market.

  9. Julio,

    Can you please email your post to all the City Council members? Also, can you prepare a 3-minute summary to speak this Thursday at the hearing (at Austin City Hall?)

  10. Julio Gonzalez Altamirano you deserve a medal — and i m not being facetious. i m just stopping in to say thanks and keep up the valiant effort. if only policy decisions were based on data analysis, but i think as george purcell shows, most people conflate personal anecdote with some larger, inevitable truth, they attack the method(s) with no alternative process or even really details, etc, etc, ad nauseum

    unfortunately, narratives often win the day over data. (insert something clever here about human brains making sense of pattern through story ; )

    anyway, seriously, keep at it!

  11. Ellie says:

    Hi y’all! I think you are misinterpreting the occupancy limits ordinance. This ordinance is about developers twisting the SF-3 zoning to allow super-duplexes and ruining single-family neighborhoods. Nobody wants to evict people or rip apart roommate families. I moved to Austin from Brooklyn in 2008 and love diversity, density and real neighborhoods. C’mon–this is about being Jane Jacobs and not Robert Moses! This ordinance is about saving what we love about Austin– the majority of stealth dorm owners are rich investors from out-of-state. Is that what you want to fight for? Let’s band together to make Austin a truly diverse and affordable–weird and local– place! That’s why we all want to live here! Occupy Austin neighborhoods and save them from stealth dorms. Peace and love! ellie

    • Ellie, I would believe you more if there was any data to support your assertions. There is none. Except in the case of two formerly remodel – determined “new construction” homes in West Campus between 2008 and 2010 (by the City of Austin Board of Adjustments) during the aftermath of the great recession.

      For sound policy, you need sound facts. Where are the facts, Ellie?

    • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

      I think we understand the ordinance. You are advocating creating a framework by which future SF-3 dwellings can’t have more than 4 unrelated adults, 2 if it’s a duplex. This will reduce the number of people that can legally live there relative to the status quo without any complementary upzoning in your (or any) neighborhood or liberalization of land use regulations. This constitutes an immediate, relatively small reduction in the supply of housing.

      Jane Jacobs is not typically associated with NIMBY sentiment – which is what you are representing. Robert Moses is the one that used the coercive powers of government to sculpt city-scapes according to his vision and values – which is what you are doing.

      The market, the people, whatever you call them, want to live in shared homes in your neighborhood. The future occupants of those homes which you are outlawing are not the ones clamoring for this change – you are the one imposing it while deploying this tired discourse about out-of-state developers and such. Your policies re-write the rules to more neatly fit your vision of what constitutes an appropriate SF-3 use. The people that would actually live there in an alternate future where your policy advocacy fails would obviously feel that was an appropriate use of SF-3.

  12. el_longhorn says:

    If you don’t like living next to large groups of rowdy students, you should not have bought a house 30 blocks from one of the largest universities in the US. I’m just saying. There are dozens of other great neighborhoods in Austin where a “stealth dorm” will never be a problem. Regardless whether this passes or not, your neighborhood’s problem with stealth dorms is not going away unless the university moves. What is going away is an affordable housing option (lots of roommates to share these ridiculously high rents!!) that a large number of Austin residents need.

    • Ellie says:

      Are you kidding? I work at the university, have a Ph.D., and like living as close to the university as “rowdy students.” I take the bus or shuttle to work every day and work out at the school facilities. I have nothing against students. This is not about neighborhood proximity to the university–it is about SF-3 zoning. I bought a house in SF-3 with the understanding (and my bank’s understanding) that is was SF-3. Stealth dorms are going against SF-3 rules and gaming the system. Should I tell my bank to expect an under-water assessment because of the lack of city regulation and adherence to code?

      • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

        You are the one advocating a change to what SF-3 means through changes to occupancy limits. You don’t like status quo SF-3, that’s fine. But don’t claim SF-3 is being legally subverted. You are advocating it be changed to meet your values-based assessment of what SF-3 means because you believe SF-3’s intent is being substantively subverted, but the existing places are in compliance which is why you are grandfathering them. If there are 7 people that’s illegal and the issue is enforcement. You are asking it *change* from 6 to 4. That’s you changing the game.

      • Ellie says:

        No, I’m not advocating a change to what SF 3 means. The city has failed to regulate occupancy in the past and that has led to where we are today.

        Do you seriously think stealth dorms are good for the city? Are you really advocating tearing down single family homes in order to build the structures we refer to today as stealth dorms?

      • mdahmus says:

        Ellie, it’s dishonest to claim you’re not seeking a change.

        Existing SF-3 rules allow 6 unrelated adults.

        The organization you support is seeking SF-3 rules which only allow 4 unrelated adults.

        That’s a change.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The “bleeding neighborhoods” comments were embarrassing. Residents don’t bring their trash cans in, it’s true. But to jump past trash to city-wide occupancy reduction? North Loop wouldn’t garner enough support to handle occupancy reduction within their own boundaries by private deed restrictions yet the passionate few can go to council and reduce occupancy city-wide. Our city council has become a sucker for this. A council that pushed through affordable housing bonds should let people split rent 6 ways if they want to.

  14. Jes says:

    I have been hearing all the argument for and against this for months and I feel people are missing the point of this problem. The stretch of depew between 45 and 46 is the perfect example of this problem. On this street there are 3 stealth dorms and one that is currently under construction. These are houses that have a small kitchen, living space, and 6 bedrooms. These are not houses that were built with families in mind. These are mini dorms. These steal dorms are all less than 6 years old. These dorms removed the existing single family homes (that yes were aged) and created a new type of home with a particular tenant in mind. These rent for around 1000 a room. Most families would never be able to afford 6000 in rent.

    Also on the same street there is one duplex that houses at least 5-6 students. And one more house that has been converted into student mock dorms. So yes stealth dorm are a problem. And yes they destroy neighborhoods. A simple walk down that stretch of depew will show anyone the effects of unchecked occupancy limits.

    • mdahmus says:

      Jes, was there something preventing students from getting together and renting the old, rundown, houses that used to be there? And outbidding families in the process?

  15. Ellie says:

    Yes, Jes! You have hit the nail on the head! The stealth dorms are making a mockery out of single family residency codes! And the out-of-state owners are laughing all the way to the bank!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Julio please speak Thursday. Riley, Martinez & Tovo sponsored this item and I presume only need one vote (Morrison) for it to pass. The city’s own “affordability impact statement” says this will negatively affect affordability (see link below). If occupancy reduction was offered up concurrently with codified housing alternatives that accommodate the displacement it would be one thing. These very localized non-issues resulting in city-wide punitive code are why we are getting a 10-1 council..

    See agenda item 86 for backup documents:

    http://austin.siretechnologies.com/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=515&doctype=agenda

  17. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Altamirano:
    I appreciate your passion. I hope your forum allows for the exchange of information and provides a resource for intelligent discussion. On the good faith assumption that you do want to encourage a thoughtful discussion, I have included a link to a report by Scott Morris Director, Central Austin CDC.

    http://centralaustincdc.org/fair_affordable_housing/Family_Displacement_in_Central_Austin.pdf

    The report provides a thorough analysis of the 2010-2011 statistics that you referred to in your initial statement. I do not expect the report to change your position. However, I am hopeful that it will provide insight into the multifaceted problems Central Austin neighborhoods are facing. All the best, Debbie

    • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

      That’s the report I got my data from, actually. I provide a hyperlink to it within the blog post. I provide some ratios based on the report’s data to show the extremely modest changes. The data cited by proponents simply does not make a compelling case for ‘bleeding’ or ‘extinction’ of neighborhoods. Certainly, some of these units must be very painful to some neighbors, but is inappropriate to seek a citywide restriction in supply.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I just realized the numbers in your post were from the report I referenced. I am curious if you read the entire report or if you only looked at the statistical information, because the report interprets the stats much differently than you have in the blog post.

    I was hoping to gain some insight into the occupancy limit objections. However, I have not learned anything new and the responses seems to have reached the emotionally-laden status your blog post “intended” to avoid. I am respectfully bowing out of this discussion. All the Best, Debbie

    • Julio Gonzalez Altamirano says:

      That is correct. We look at the exact same data and tell different stories from it. Mostly because I add some contextualizing ratios. No one is actually discussing the data except to critique that it should be more recent. A good criticism, but one that applies to both sides and seems to argue for policy-making to cease until the City completes the housing study underway.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I do appreciate the information and the tone in your last post, thank you. All the best, Debbie

    • Anonymous says:

      Sounds like we need to tear down the drag, the housing around the drag, move the museums, the practice stadium, and tear down all the walmarts, and shopping areas and replace them with student housing. Austin is home to a lot of people. The “transient” should live in mobility as a “transient” should.

      But what do I know, I had to sell my house to be able to afford Facebook

  20. AK says:

    One thing I really don’t understand about the opposition to “stealth dorms” (more than 4 unrelated people on a single lease? is that correct?) is WHERE this opposition is coming from. Hyde Park is right next to the University. UT is a huge public school with more than 70,000 students. It is an urban university. Where do homeowners in Hyde Park propose to put students who don’t fit in on-campus housing, in West Campus, or even North Campus? Manor Rd and Hyde Park are the next closest options. Anyone who thinks students who go to UT should live farther than 5 miles from campus is downright ignorant. Asking students to move out of the 5-mile radius puts an undue burden upon them to commute into the core every day. If the pubic transportation system were improved, this would certainly be an option but that isn’t happening. Who buys a house a mile from a huge University and then complains about student-aged neighbors who pack into apartments like sardines? They wouldn’t if they could afford to live 2 to an apartment/ house. But they can’t if they want to be within a reasonable distance to the University. The many issues cited by these neighborhood association listervs are not entirely student-related problems either. I’ve seen yuppie housewives blow throw stop signs with occupied carseats. I’ve seen adult men with gray hair park more than two feet out from the sidewalk. Yes, I’m looking at you Hyde Park. Enforce code, why don’t you? We have laws that are not being upheld. Overflowing trash can? Cite it. 40 MPH in a 20 zone? Cite it. Loud music at 5 am? Cite it. This is an Austin problem, not a UT problem.

    • AK,

      A number of other cities disagree with the assessment that overcrowding single family neighborhoods is a city problem versus a university problem.

      Boston specifically targeted students in 2008 when they said not more than 4 students could live together off campus.

      Source: http://www.boston.com/realestate/news/articles/2008/03/13/students_face_caps_in_city_housing/?page=full

      Notable quotes:

      The new law is designed to discourage landlords from turning single- and two-family dwellings into high-rent, multibedroom apartments for large numbers of students, Ross and other supporters said.

      “You can’t let profit dominate the public debate,”

      Boston police Captain William Evans said he had seen how large groups of students living together often hurt residents’ quality of life.

      Several college officials said the move would help combat the growing problem of students in groups as large as 12 living in housing poorly maintained by absentee landlords.

      “It’s a disgrace, and it’s very dangerous,” said Sandra Pascal, associate vice president of community affairs at Wentworth Institute of Technology.

  21. Nuria Zaragoza says:

    I live very close to UT, just west of West Campus in the West University Neighborhood. My husband walks to work, my kids ride their bikes to an excellent neighborhood school. Most of my neighbors ride or walk to work; that is because we are not only very close to UT, but we are very close major employers down town, at the state offices, Brakenridge hospital, etc.. Should we all move to Circle C and commute here? The goal is for as few people as possible to commute, and the thought that the burden is more “undue” on one population than another does not further the conversation.

    I don’t know how many of you were around when the 7 neighborhoods around UT worked incredibly hard, and hand in hand with developers, to create the massive increase in density that is the University Neighborhood Overlay (which by the way, despite the unprecedented increase in density, made west campus much less affordable). At any rate, neighborhoods came together to find a remedy, and to a degree, they succeeded.

    However, from time to time the development community relies on those who believe in affordability to do the heavy lifting for them. Sadly, I believe this is one of those times. This type of development does not provide affordable housing, it just takes advantage of lax development regulations, and desperate renters.

    • mdahmus says:

      “made West Campus much less affordable” in what way? There’s a lot more people living there now. Is it so crowded that nobody can afford to live there?

      • Ellie says:

        I call BS on your stealth dorms = affordability argument, Dahmus.

        I call BS on your upzoning all Single Family to all Multi-Family = affordable housing argument.

        It is shameful to even talk about affordable housing in this context. Real affordable housing has meaning for people who don’t have rich parents; people who don’t own over a million dollars of appraised property in the central core; people who live paycheck to paycheck without 10K property tax breaks.

        Give your affordability argument a rest and actually talk about making Austin a city where people from all walks of life can live in nice neighborhoods like the ones we enjoy. Let’s make it a priority to construct nice housing for the poorest among us.

        How did you vote on the affordable housing bond initiative? Do you have anything constructive to bring to the table?

        From what I can see, you enjoy your historic landmark tax break while benefiting from the investment opportunity afforded by a local historic district that you probably fought against.

        Stealth dorms are not affordable housing options. West Campus is expensive. Austin doesn’t have to be such a crappy real estate town.

        I read that housing costs have increased 85% over the last 10 years; is that what you want as your legacy?

      • mdahmus says:

        And this is what Adrian Skinner wrought. Congratulations, Adrian.

      • To Ellie-

        “Real affordable housing has meaning for people who don’t have rich parents; people who don’t own over a million dollars of appraised property in the central core; people who live paycheck to paycheck without 10K property tax breaks.”

        Ok, so, I qualify under those terms. Am I allowed to talk about the importance of housing supply in determining whether housing is or isn’t affordable? Is it permissible for me to draw your attention to the fact that cities that constantly build a bunch of new housing have significantly lower rents than cities that choke off new supply through restrictive zoning?

        “Stealth dorms are not affordable housing options. West Campus is expensive. Austin doesn’t have to be such a crappy real estate town.”

        It’s musical chairs:

        http://austinonyourfeet.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/the-musical-chairs-model-of-housing-markets/

        Market rents are partly determined by the way that supply and demand interact at the metro level. It’s a little counterintuitive, but building a new tower full of ridiculously expensive units that I could never afford still helps to take pressure off the market as a whole, making my rent lower.

        Yes, many new West Campus apartments are expensive, but more students (and some non-students, like me) live here than ever before. Efficiently packing all those wealthier students into shiny new towers helps to keep them from running around town, bidding up rents on everything else.

        Admittedly, shared houses in North Austin neighborhoods aren’t doing nearly as much to help boost supply as the towers sprouting up around me, but every little bit helps. And it’s particularly important to do everything we can to constantly increase density in the central city. It’s the only way to fight sprawl, which is ecologically destructive and which causes the people forced to the edges of the city to be isolated from the jobs and opportunities in the core.

        Consistently boosting density in the central city is going to require constant change in the character of the neighborhoods there, yes. But I think that’s a price worth paying if it means that Austinites will pay lower rents, have better access to transit, and have a significantly smaller overall ecological footprint.

  22. Ellie says:

    Yes, I agree we need more housing options in Austin. And especially for lower-income brackets. Stealth dorms are not affordable housing options and allowing low-level developers to build them in SF areas is not creating more density or more affordable options.

    I support actual MF upzoning. Especially S.M.A.R.T. (Safe, Mixed-income, Accessible, Reasonably-priced, Transit-oriented) housing. I look forward to the Airport Blvd redevelopment. I want a mix of people living in harmony, walking to local stores, and riding the bus to work together.

    I’d like to see developers set aside a portion of the units for low and mid-income residents. For that matter, we should have more developments built specifically for low to moderate income residents. Foundation Communities have several excellent examples.

    Here are some links you might find interesting.

    http://housingworksaustin.org/faq.php

    http://www.foundcom.org/get-housing/austin-communities/trails-at-the-park/

    http://www.huduser.org/portal/rbc/rbcrecord&DocId=451?DocId=451

    • mdahmus says:

      It’s easy to claim to support MF as long as it’s on a corridor far away from you (Airport Blvd) which was already slated for MF anyways (so you get to take credit for something which isn’t actually a change).

      • Ellie says:

        It’s not an empty claim, Dahmus. I’m not trying to take credit for anything. I live really really close to Airport Blvd and frequently walk to the new and old places (not In-and-Out :) over there. Are you saying we shouldn’t put MF on large corridors and plan for growth and development?

        I’m starting to get the feeling you just like to be an argumentative contrarian ;)

      • mdahmus says:

        It’s an empty claim, Hanlon (see what I did there?)

        Airport Blvd is already planned for VMU (MF). This happened as a result of the McMansion quid-pro-quo. Pointing to it as an example of new places to put MF is not legitimate. It’s trying to take credit for the same thing twice.

    • Thanks for links. They included some good information that really underscored how urgent the affordability crisis is in Austin.

      “Stealth dorms are not affordable housing options and allowing low-level developers to build them in SF areas is not creating more density or more affordable options.”

      If you take a cute little bungalow and turn it into larger shared house (or two), you are increasing density. Admittedly, you can boost density a lot more by taking a few bungalows and turning them into a shiny new tower, but I’ll take what I can get wherever I can get it.

      Even if a new duplex (or tower) isn’t affordable, the people who move there come from somewhere else. What matters isn’t so much the mix of housing being added, just the size of the overall market. If you consistently have crazy high occupancy rates like we do in Austin, people bid up the rents on everything. 110 people moving to Austin on net every day, they all need a place to stay, and in the end, it won’t be the rich who get left out in the cold.

      However, if you are worried about the mix of new development, you have a couple options. If you want the market to build lots of low and middle income housing, you need to have lots and lots of land zoned MF. Way more than we have now. When MF zoned land is a scarce, precious resource, its only natural that developers who get their hands on some put super expensive buildings on top of it.

      If you want the government to build lots of low and middle income housing, you’ll need to fund it. That’s a lot easier to do if you can boost property valuations by allowing people to develop their land more aggressively. Either way works for me, as long as more housing is getting built.

      “I support actual MF upzoning. Especially S.M.A.R.T. (Safe, Mixed-income, Accessible, Reasonably-priced, Transit-oriented) housing. I look forward to the Airport Blvd redevelopment. I want a mix of people living in harmony, walking to local stores, and riding the bus to work together.”

      I couldn’t agree more, but I’d make two points. First, if we’re serious about affordability and combating sprawl, we’re going to need to be increasing density constantly. (110 people every day…) No one redevelopment or zoning change is going to do it. People in the central city are going to need to get comfortable watching existing buildings being replaced with taller ones, and watching new developments take the place of what used to be single family homes.

      Second, I’d say that the neighborhoods north of UT seem like a particularly sensible location to do a lot of this upzoning and redevelopment. Between two college campuses, extremely walkable and bikeable, access to the best transit corridors in the city; these are in an incredible location, and I’d like as many people as possible to be able to live there.

  23. Ellie says:

    I agree that we need more affordable MF as well as SF. Let’s start building actual high-density structures on already MF-zoned areas, empty lots, parking garages, and VMU areas. It is short-sighted to say we should destroy older SF neighborhoods for the estimated throngs moving to Austin. We need a mix of housing options in the center core.

    Also, older city infrastructure systems (streets, waste and storm sewers, water supply lines, power supply) can’t magically handle new demand. It makes sense to build new MF in areas like Airport Blvd while installing new higher-capacity city infrastructure systems.

    • To the extent that we have land zoned MF that isn’t being developed, I imagine that owners/developers are being held back by something. (Parking minimums perhaps?) Considering Austin rents, there’s a lot of incentive to build new complexes all the time. I’m very interested in figuring out what’s stopping people from redeveloping land currently zoned MF.

      There is a lot of SF housing all over Austin right now, including throughout the central part of the city, and more gets built out at the periphery all the time. I’m not convinced by arguments that we need to preserve SF houses in places where there is enormous unmet demand for housing in order to ensure that some SF is left somewhere. If there are locations so desirable that groups of people are willing to pay $6000 a month to rent a house there, those seem like the kinds of places that would support a lot more density.

      I don’t know anything about water, wastewater, or power infrastructure. Objections that densification shouldn’t proceed in a specific area on the basis of those sorts of concerns are something that I would have to defer to experts on. Is there any good information publicly available out there on whether this would be a barrier to further development in the neighborhoods north of campus?

      As a general matter, local government will be able to provide services much more efficiently the denser the city is. This would allow some combination of lowering of property tax rates, improvements in service provision, or additional spending on things like affordable housing construction. Yet another benefit of upzoning more parts of the central city.

      Streets strike me as a different issue. Increasing density means less car dependence, meaning fewer cars and car trips per person. It’s hard for me to imagine that reducing density is going to improve traffic around Austin any.

    • Brennan says:

      It seems short-sighted to me that folks are not willing to let older SF neighborhoods be upzoned to allow for more people to live in them, especially in the urban core! Its not destroying a neighborhood to allow *more* people to live there. Its making it more vibrant, giving more opportunity for small shops, businesses, services, more opportunities to meet people and gather, more children, more families.

      When done in sufficient quantity, it could actually relieve pressure on housing prices – I read somewhere that Seattle had some success during its boom by doing this (can’t find/remember reference, will post later if I can).

      My wife and I bought a house last year, and are nearly priced out of central city Austin (we ended up near MLK and Springdale on the Eastside). The elementary school is not a good one, so we’re basically crossing our fingers that it will either a) improve or that b) AISD will maintain open transfer policies before it becomes an issue for the 20 month old sociopath with whom we live. Good schools are either too far out for our commutes or too close in to afford.

      When people in Hyde Park and Travis Heights complain about upzoning and dense development, it very much feels like they’re pulling the ladder up behind them. Its a very “I got mine, screw you” sort of vibe. In the grand scheme of things, the occupancy limits may not make a huge dent, but they’re a marginal move in exactly the wrong direction.

      If you’re willing to say, yeah, lets stop stealth dorms, and in return you’ll support upzoning Duval, Speedway, 38th and 45th, I can respect that. If the only time you’re willing to speak up is against stealth dorms, well, the priority is clear, and its on pulling the ladder up behind you.

      • Ellie says:

        As I’ve said, I do support upzoning on corridors and with the principles of S.M.A.R.T. housing. However, it is a fallacy to think that merely upzoning will result in lower prices. The economics of housing markets are not as simple as supply/demand or musical chairs.

      • “However, it is a fallacy to think that merely upzoning will result in lower prices. The economics of housing markets are not as simple as supply/demand or musical chairs.”

        You’re going to have to flesh that one out for me. Globally, growing cities that constantly build a bunch of housing see flat rents. Growing cities that choke off housing supply through zoning see rapidly rising rents. This makes intuitive sense to me and seems to be what we see empirically.

        Why would building more housing lead to higher rents?

        And just to be clear, you’re saying you support upzoning Duval, Speedway, 38th and 45th?

      • Ellie says:

        It costs a lot of money to create new buildings, so developers are going to charge a lot of money either in rent or purchase price to make it worth their while to build new construction. The affordable housing links I sent are examples of how non-profits or community foundations create subsidized housing for low to moderate residents.

        Austin isn’t choking off the housing supply. Look at how many cranes are in the air downtown. Developers are going to build where they can make the most money. There is a lot of MF land in Northfield that hasn’t been developed while 100+ stealth dorms have been developed. It makes more economic sense for a low-level developer to buy an older (cheaper) SF home and demolish it to make room for a stealth dorm that brings in higher rents than the SF home. And this bring us back to the beginning :)

        Older places are generally much more affordable than newer construction.

        And no, I am not for blanket upzoning of 38th, 45th, Speedway and Duval. You can just stick a bunch of MF density on small streets. I think we need to look at empty lots (word on the street is that the state hospital is prime territory), large corridors (Airport Blvd), and underutilized non-residential spaces (parking garages).

        What’s the number one rule of real estate? Location, location, location.

      • “It costs a lot of money to create new buildings, so developers are going to charge a lot of money either in rent or purchase price to make it worth their while to build new construction.”

        You’re used to only seeing new construction of expensive units, but it doesn’t have to be that way. When you cut off supply, the units that -are- supplied start to skew towards the high end. That’s where the Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura luxury brands came from: Toyota, Nissan, and Honda (respectively) responding to Japanese export restraints in the 80s.

        If you opened the market up a lot, it would start to make sense for developers to build new units targeted lower down the income scale.

        Further, even -if- new construction is always expensive, as you described, that just means that rich people move into the new units (and out of the units they used to live in). When they move out, other people move in to the spots they vacate.

        You still haven’t explained how supply/demand don’t apply to the housing market. This stuff isn’t that hard, cities that build a bunch of new housing see flat rents. If you don’t build housing fast enough, your rents increase rapidly.

        “Austin isn’t choking off the housing supply. Look at how many cranes are in the air downtown.”

        Our occupancy rates are way higher than what you’d see in a healthy market. Yes, we’re building, but not nearly fast enough. Remember, 110 new people every day. You might think we’re building fast enough, but you can’t trust your gut on this, look at objective indicators like occupancy rates.

        “Developers are going to build where they can make the most money.”

        The relevant constraint isn’t on developers, there are plenty of those and I imagine there always will be. The binding constraint is on buildable land. Do you really think there are great buildable lots just lying all over town, waiting for someone to realize what a profitable investment opportunity is in front of their eyes?

        “And no, I am not for blanket upzoning of 38th, 45th, Speedway and Duval. You can just stick a bunch of MF density on small streets.”

        Are the streets in West Campus much bigger than 38th, 45th, Speedway, or Duval? We support a lot of density here (and more all the time). People walk, bike, or take transit, they don’t drive.

  24. Ellie says:

    West Campus is a whole different zoning story. And a lot of changes were made with the understanding that the other neighborhoods would be left for SF. All the central neighborhoods got together and worked to create the plan.

    http://www.utexas.edu/depts/grg/adams/307c/westcampusoverlay.pdf

    • You agree that adding density is good for Austin, for the environment, for the lower and middle income people who will be forced out to the periphery without it, yes? You just feel that density should be added somewhere other than your neighborhood?

      Not an uncommon position.

      Do you believe that some objective characteristic of your neighborhood makes it uniquely unsuitable for densification? Or do you just like your neighborhood the way it is and don’t want to see it change, regardless of whether that’s bad policy for the people of Austin as a whole?

    • mdahmus says:

      That plan was done under current SF-3 rules (6 unrelated adults per).

      It was a concession given the neighborhoods in their neighborhood plans (which didn’t call for any more density inside them – in fact, less density in the long run); the concession the neighborhoods made in return was to allow for that long-overdue upzoning of West Campus.

      If you want to change SF-3 rules to make them (4 unrelated adults per), you can’t claim credit again for a concession you made for a previous effort.

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