Co-op Advocacy: Victory and Opportunities

By Ryan Nill, ACBA Advocacy Chair and Beth Aavang Advocacy Committee Member


ACBA is pleased to announce two major updates on local policy related to business co-ops. The City of Austin is revising its business incentive policies to focus more on community needs. These include targeting support to small businesses, local businesses, art and music spaces, and businesses providing major community benefits. ACBA and co-op members participated in community stakeholder meetings and sessions with city staff to make sure worker and consumer co-ops were included in these discussions. Thanks to advocacy from the co-op community and the leadership of co-op allies on City Council, a strong policy was passed on Thursday August 30th, that includes co-ops as targets for incentives, grants, and affordable commercial rent programs. Councilmember Greg Casar also championed an amendment that awards cooperatives additional “points” for consideration for tax incentives and other supports. We encourage co-op supporters to contact Casar’s office and thank him for supporting the growth of Austin co-op economy.


The Advocacy Committee has continued organizing to have co-op technical service and education included in the 2018-2019 City budget. ACBA has long advocated for this, with endorsements from the City’s Economic Prosperity Commission and the Small Business Division, which recommended $75,000 for co-op education, business outreach, and technical support. The Committee organized emails to City Council offices from member businesses, and speakers to attend the budget hearings. City Council will decide on the final budget between September 11th-13th. Please take a moment to contact your city council member and ask them to support co-ops in the new budget!


ACBA also thanks all of the co-op supporters who came out to lobby for housing co-ops during the CodeNEXT process! While the mammoth six-year, $8.5 million effort to rewrite of the land development code was ultimately scrapped last month, progress was still made for the co-operative community:

·  Prior to CodeNEXT, housing co-ops were only known in niche circles. After your advocacy efforts, every council member and land use commissioner is familiar with them. We will be able to leverage these relationships going forward!

·  The contention over CodeNEXT largely boiled down to a debate over residential density vs. the preservation of existing neighborhoods. Advocated argued that co-ops preserve affordable existing structures, while instilling a community-based approach to density.

·  Advocates also showed that density coupled with a co-operative model creates some of the most impressive housing affordability in the city, averaging 40-60% the cost of comparable market rates.

·  While a single, massive overhaul of the land development code proved infeasible at this time, piecemeal reform is still possible. Through the CodeNEXT process, different features were identified that would help & hinder co-ops within the land development code and incentive programs and can use this knowledge in future Council initiatives.

Improving a city’s infrastructure takes time and is often achieved through incremental victories. We look forward to working together to continue paving the way for co-ops going forward! Follow the ACBA for updates or contact us if you are interested in joining our Advocacy Committee. Thanks again for all of your support!

Final CodeNEXT Hearing

This Saturday June 2nd from 10 am-4 pm at City Hall will be the last time the general public will be able to comment on CodeNEXT, the once-in-a-generation rewriting of the land development code. The process that will literally put housing co-ops on the map (read earlier blog posts about this here) and determine where you can build future co-op housing. Please come if you are able!

The CodeNEXT process was started in 2012 and ACBA has been involved in this campaign since the summer of 2015 and we have made steady progress. We advocated for a unique definition for housing co-ops so that we would not become collateral damage in the fight to restrict dorms, Greek houses, boarding homes and half-way houses and we could push for more rights for co-ops.

In CodeNEXT’s first draft, released in early 2017 contained a definition. We continue to push for an improved definition as this one only helps a minority of current co-ops, but it was a great early win.   

A volunteer group of appointed citizens known as the Code Advisory Group made their final recommendation in mid 2017 recommended improving the definition, changing occupancy limits for co-ops from 4 or 6 unrelated adults per unit to 2 per bedroom, consideration of lowered parking limits for co-ops and to include a cottage court that allowed for one big main house and several smaller houses.

Little changed until the Draft 3 addendum released in early 2018 changed parking limits for co-ops from 1 parking spot plus 1 per two bedrooms to 1 parking spot plus 1 per four bedrooms.

Most recently the Planning Commission voted to allow Cooperative Housing by right in areas zoned R3 “Areas that are accessible to mixed use and main street zones by walking or biking” and sites that allow more dense development. In that conversation (you can view the half hour midnight conversation on Youtube) City staff admitted that they were not prepared to answer any questions about co-ops, were unfamiliar with the current definition in the code, or our proposed definition. They would not be ready for about a week. At that point they recommended deleting co-ops from the code (bad) and to add a cottage court with one dwelling unit and multiple sleeping units (good, but very wonky.)

This could very well be a tipping point for cooperative housing in Austin. Planning Commission Patricia Seeger told me that she thought “cooperative housing used to be underground and now it is mainstream.” It is now gaining acknowledgment as an extremely attractive model for housing people affordably. Commissioner Greg Anderson, who works as Development Director for Habitat for Humanity in Austin says that of Habitat in New York City “they are doing straight up co-ops. It is the best tool that they have.”

I hope you can come to City Hall on Saturday, tell everybody why co-ops are important to you and help us tip co-ops into the mainstream.


What’s next with CodeNext?: Paving the way for Austin housing co-ops

Remind me — what is CodeNEXT?


CodeNEXT is the City of Austin’s initiative to revise the Land Development Code, which determines how land can be used throughout the city — including what can be built, where it can be built, and how much can (and cannot) be built.


What’s the issue for co-ops?


If hearing “Land Development Code” makes your eyes glaze, consider this — the 2nd draft (released Sept 15) would greatly restrict where new housing co-ops could be established, and would strip the “co-op” status from over 90% of existing cooperative housing.

How could CodeNEXT be altered to help co-ops?


The folks at the ACBA are working hard to lobby for more co-op-friendly conditions in CodeNEXT. The changes they are proposing for the 3rd draft include:


  • #1 - Improving the land use definition of “cooperative” - The current definition limits co-ops to properties with 3 or more separate units, which would exclude the many co-ops that are in large, single households.

  • #2 - Allow co-ops by Minor Use Permits (MUP) in R zones -  This would allow co-ops in most, if not all, neighborhoods around Austin.

  • #3 - Allow higher occupancy limits - Under the current draft, the maximum number of people allowed to live in a single housing unit in most zones is 4.

  • #4 - Allow co-ops in R zones to have more flexible development standards  - This would allow cooperatives to be bigger, have several attached units, and have more lenient requirements for parking and open spaces.

  • #5 - Incentive the redevelopment of older apartment buildings into co-ops - Co-ops can be a great way to preserve older apartment buildings in a more tenant-friendly fashion (e.g. La Reunion in North Austin). However, bringing them up to code can be cost-prohibitive, so partially relaxing these requirements would give more co-ops a chance of forming.


How can I help?


There are many stakeholders in the CodeNEXT negotiations, so it’s important that co-opers have a strong voice if we hope to pave a promising future for Austin co-ops. Here are some ways to stay in the loop and support the cause:


  • Most Importantly: Comment on (or upvote!) on the CodeNEXT website to support the allowance of co-ops in more areas of Austin. Comments for this current draft are open thru Oct 31st. For more detailed instructions, check out the end of this blog post!

  • Sign up to be a CodeNEXT organizer to stay in the loop and hear of future volunteer opportunities. All backgrounds and levels of time commitment welcome!

  • Contact the Planning Commission and let them know that you want fair development rights for co-ops in Austin through the changes listed above. Not sure who to call? Click the link below to find out who represents you on City Council, and then check who your Commissioner is here.

  • Contact your city council member’s office and let them know, too. Not sure who represents your house? Find out here.

  • Talk about CodeNEXT with your fellow co-opers! Share this info with your friends on social media, send it out on your email list, bring it up at dinner, or put it on the agenda for your next meeting.

  • Hold a letter-writing event or comment party at your house where your members are encouraged to get together and write letters to the CAG and your city council members. If you're not sure where to start, get in touch with us and we'll give you everything you need to become a Co-opNEXT organizer.

  • Subscribe to the ACBA email list for more updates and opportunities for action!


What’s the timeline for this whole process?


The current CodeNEXT timeline is as follows:

  • Oct 31, 2017 - deadline for public comment on the 2nd draft of CodeNEXT

  • End of November, 2017 - the expected release date of the 3rd draft of CodeNEXT

  • Feb, 2018 - Council begins deliberation on the final iteration of CodeNEXT

  • April, 2018 - Council votes on CodeNEXT


Keep an eye on ACBA social media to stay up-to-date on all things CodeNEXT. Remember, the last time the Land Development Code was overhauled was nearly thirty years ago — who knows when we’ll get another chance to improve conditions for Austin co-ops!


Instructions for Commenting on CodeNEXT.

  1. Go to the online commentable text and create an account.

  2. To comment on the recommendation #1 improve the definition go to 23-2M -2030

  3. Recommendation #2 allow Coops in R zones by MUP. Found in section 23-4D-2030(B) and (C). On the top left make sure the Current Section drop down is on Section D.

  4. Recomendation #3 The sections dealing with Occupancy limits is 23-4E-7040. Make sure Current Section drop down is on Section E.

  5. Recommendation #4 is found in 23-4E-6 and Recommendation #5 23-2G-1050, but we need to work out the specifics. Feel free to review and provide feedback.

Become a Co-opNEXT Organizer!

With the CodeNEXT drafting process in full swing, the ACBA needs as many dedicated volunteers as it can get to help us fight for the future of Austin co-ops. Our efforts over the next year will affect cooperative development in Austin for decades to come - there's never been a more vital or important time to get involved with co-op advocacy. One of the great things about being a co-oper is that we already know that when we come together, we can accomplish so much more than we ever could on our own. With that in mind, we're inviting the dedicated movers and shakers of the co-opsphere to join our Co-opNEXT Organizing Team!

Will Cooperatives Survive CodeNEXT?

Will Cooperatives Survive CodeNEXT?

With Austin in an affordability crisis, our future development has been limited to some of the most expensive parts of the city. Under the current draft map, it's going to take a lot more money than it did before to start a new co-op house. While cooperative housing tends to be the most affordable in its neighborhood, new co-ops will be limited to some of the least affordable parcels of land in the city, where we’ll be competing with profit-driven (and very wealthy) developers. So much for “affordable housing.”

An Open Letter to the Land Development Code Advisory Group

An Open Letter to the Land Development 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.