An Open Letter to the Land Development Code Advisory Group

Honorable Members of the Code Advisory Group:

As a coalition of cooperative and cohousing advocates, we consider the current CodeNEXT draft definition for cooperative housing use (see Chapter 23-2 2M-2, page 5) as inadequate for the needs of Austin’s existing cooperatives and future cooperative development.  For over 50 years in Austin  cooperatives have provided permanently affordable, dignified housing options.  If we are to meaningfully address affordability options in Austin we must use all the tools at our disposal to combat rising housing costs and concentrated development that feeds gentrification.  Proven affordability models such as cooperatives must be allowed access to a wide range of potential development options.

We propose the following definition for the cooperative use: “A housing arrangement in which residents share expenses and ownership, and in which all profits or surpluses are allocated to purposes that benefit current or future residents.”  This definition is sourced from a combination of the Texas Business Organization Code and Boulder, Colorado’s definition of a housing cooperative as written in that city’s land development code. Our proposed definition emphasizes what truly makes a cooperative a cooperative, by focusing on its management, profit, and savings distribution model rather than the current definition’s focus on unit numbers and equity arrangements.  For a more thorough critique of the current draft definition please see Hannah Frankel’s letter to the Code Advisory Group sent on March 31 of this year.

Furthermore, the range of mapping areas that cooperatives are an allowed use in insufficient. Cooperatives should be allowed the same development opportunities throughout T-3 zoning as cottage courts, duplexes, and other missing middle subtypes. Currently cooperative housing is available only in parts of T-4 and above--and the application of the T-4 category is unfortunately severely limited in this current draft.

Although we are pleased to see cooperative housing defined in the non-transect zones, there are ways that permitting could be more accessible. Cooperative housing should be a by-right use in the LMDR, MDR, and SF-3 through SF-6 zoning areas.  Cooperative housing should be given the option for development through a Minor Use Permit in Very Low Density, Low Density, SF-1, and SF-2 zoning and a Conditional Use Permit in Rural Residential.

We look forward to the release of details about the Density Bonus Program. Cooperatives should be encouraged to develop increased density in the areas where applied, in return for providing the requisite amount of affordability.  Many existing coops could meet these affordability standards easily as a matter of course.

In order for us to continue creating the housing that our city needs, it is crucial that Austin’s CodeNEXT recognize the benefits provided by housing cooperatives and cohousing. Please encourage Opticos Design and City staff to dismantle barriers in code definitions and zoning; in order to empower cooperatives to continue creating great places for residents to live good lives. 

Sincerely,

Hannah Frankel
Community Housing Expansion of Austin

Andi Shively
Austin Cooperative Business Association

Carol Lilly
Boomers Collaborative

Kim Garmany
College Houses

Howie Richey
Armadillo Cohousing

Laura Aavang
Sunflower Cooperative

Beth Aavang
Rosewood Cooperative