Austin Hopes Updating Its Development Code Can Tame Skyrocketing Housing Prices

By allowing more dense development in the city, leaders hope housing will become more affordable for new residents.

By Jill AmentDecember 12, 2019 10:40 am,

This week, Austin officials took the first steps in their efforts to overhaul the city’s Land Development Code – something that hasn’t been done since the 1980s.

Texas’ capital city has grown a lot in the 35 years since the last development code rewrite. And concerns over gentrification and skyrocketing home and rental prices have many in the community saying an overhaul is overdue.

Megan Kimble has been writing about the planned land code update for The Texas Observer, where she’s senior editor. She says Austin has grown from 400,000 residents in 1984, when the land development code was last amended, to more than 2 million people today. The city’s land area is also much larger than it was back then, and far more expensive.

“Rents have gone up about 50% throughout the city, home prices have quadrupled, while incomes have not matched the growth of those prices,” Kimble says.

The goal of the updated development code is to encourage more dense development within the city; the availability of more housing should make that housing more affordable.

Kimble says a city can encourage density in two ways: increase the number of housing units allowed on a piece of land, or allow larger apartment developments.

Some Austin residents oppose efforts to bring more density, either because they’re worried the value of their property could decrease, or they fear the city and their neighborhoods will become more crowded. Kimble says worries about declining property values are unfounded.

“I think there’s a lot of misinformation around what’s actually going to happen to home prices,” she says. “Likely they will go up. [But it’s] actually not clear what’s going to happen to them.”

The plan is expected to receive a final vote from the Austin City Council by March.


Written by Shelly Brisbin.