Opinion: Austin Zoning Reform Won’t Have Major Impact

Despite heated controversy, some experts believe the zoning changes made last year won’t make a significant dent in the local housing crisis.

2 minute read

February 4, 2024, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Aerial view of downtown Austin, Texas with state capitol dome at end of long, straight boulevard.

Austin, Texas. | Reagan / Adobe Stock

In a piece for Forbes, Roger Valdez argues that recent zoning changes made by the city of Austin are “necessary but not sufficient” to increase the city’s housing supply. While local media touted the zoning reforms as a major step toward new housing and higher density, the reality is more nuanced. Regulations like lot size minimums, setbacks, and Floor Area Ratio (FAR) requirements limit the number of new units that can be built. Challenges with surface water management, utility requirements, and financing are other barriers to building as much new housing as advocates envision.

An Austin housing advocate Valdez spoke to said the changes “will not have a massive impact” and few sites will meet the requirements for additional units. “While there was a tremendous amount of work and controversy associated with the changes, they don’t represent an end to single-family zoning, and are unlikely to result in a large increase in production of new housing. When new housing does happen, it is likely to be expensive given the challenges of building.”

For Valdez, the only answer is a wholesale scrapping of the current zoning code. “Without substantial and significant changes in development standards, adding units is not likely to happen at scale; it is simply too challenging to do, permit, finance, and given all the other elements of the zoning and building code, utility requirements, often infeasible.”

Thursday, February 1, 2024 in Forbes

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