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The Financial and Moral Dilemma of Austin Housing Costs

As of January Austin, Texas was still listed among the top 5 most expensive cities in the United States. Why is this? As someone who arrived in Austin in 1979 as a child, I've watched this city transform from the sleepy little hippie university town where it truly seemed like anyone with a song and a dream could make tremendous things happen, to a hungry, aggressive metropolis brimming with overpriced development. Of course this is considered "progress", but at what price? There is now a true struggle to provide "affordable housing" options to those who are now being displaced and forced to leave the city in order to find both work and homes in subdivisions and cities such as Cedar Park, Leander, Manor, and Buda.

For some reason many of the developers erecting the lots of condos that have become rather an inside joke to Austinites over the past few years (Oh, look, more condos. Go figure...) are pushing back at the idea of providing units that are "affordable" -- and let's be real, when they say affordable what they mean is under $1200 a month, which is for most without a 6-figure income, simply unobtainable. While there are incentives provided by the City to these developments to encourage affordability the developers are continuing to find ways around them. There is usually an application fee of $100 or more to get placed on a waiting list and then there is no guarantee that you will be given one of the "cheaper" units. I have heard of people waiting a year or two for a unit to open up. And when you are searching for a place to live you may not have the luxury to wait around that long. Is this merely greed or does this mask a more deeply rooted social class issue Austin has yet to address?

Either way, something must be done. The City has begun to work on initiatives to develop more affordable housing units in East Austin, but in the meantime where do those people go. We all know, once you move out of a city and establish your life elsewhere it's hard to move back, especially if you have a family. While there are continuing talks about improving our mass transit, we all know just how slow those initiatives come to fruition. Thus, is Austin truly facing a cultural exodus which could forever alter the very spirit of our city?

We at Kinney & Associates work with many residential clients seeking to build a secondary dwelling (apartment) unit on their property to assist with the soaring costs of owning a home. In a way this is a type of affordable, at times, housing option for those renting the units. However, it is now rumored that the City is attempting to enact measures making it illegal to build a secondary apartment on your own property. Why? What good could possibly come of this in the long term? Especially if housing costs continue to rise.

On the flip side, realtors are also beginning to feel the crunch as their clients continue to ask for more and more money at the point of sale. Here is a quote from the Austin American Statesman:

Local real estate agent George Vance McGee, however, said he thinks “prices are just a little too high.”

“Buyers are not paying these pie-in-the-sky prices,” McGee said. “Some of my sellers are giving me a dreamy price and hoping I may be able to perform a miracle, and I have not been performing miracles lately.”

What are your thoughts? Do you think we will hit a ceiling on the market eventually or will prices continue to rise? And what does that mean for Austinites? Talk to us on Twitter @atxarchitect or on Facebook at

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