2018 Affordable Housing Bond Campaign - FAQs

What is affordable housing? Is it public housing?

The affordable housing bond program is a uniquely Austin partnership of City funds with proven, successful private and non-profit organizations to create and maintain affordable houses and apartments in Austin. Local organizations that have used bond money to expand their housing services include Habitat for Humanity, Foundation Communities, and Meals on Wheels and More. Residents helped by the housing bonds pay rent or have put equity in their home. The houses and apartments created by the affordable housing bonds are not public housing or Section 8.

Who is supporting Keep Austin Affordable?

Keep Austin Affordable is a diverse coalition of affordable housing and service providers, passionate individuals, community groups, and business leaders. Following the success of the 2013 campaign, Keep Austin Affordable continued to exist as a public resource for those interested in the implementation of the bonds and to maintain the relationships that were critical to the city-wide initiative for greater investment in affordable housing.

Who would be helped by these bonds?

Affordable housing bonds would be used to build new houses and apartments as well as repair and renovate existing homes for families whose total income is 50% or less of median family income. Currently, this would mean under $33,000/year for married couples and under $41,000/year for a family of 4. Many of these families are service industry workers, child care providers, construction workers and even some public employees. This would also included seniors on fixed incomes, homeless veterans, and people with disabilities.

Keep Austin Affordable believes our community is better off when low wage workers and their families can find affordable housing in the city.

Why do we need affordable housing bonds?

Housing prices are sky high…and Austin remains one of the ten most expensive rental markets in America. Tens of thousands of Austin area families cannot find affordable housing. Many are service industry workers, child care providers, construction workers and even some public employees. They’re literally being priced out of town. Housing bonds are used by private and non-profit organizations to attract additional outside funds to build and renovate affordable housing for these families.

Why is a new bond package needed?

The first and second successful affordable housing bonds were passed by a majority of Austin voters in 2006 and 2013 respectively. The bonds were used in partnership with private and non-profit organizations to build thousands of attractive houses and apartments all over the city and renovate and repair existing houses to help seniors stay in their homes. All of the bond dollars from both packages have been spent or allocated to developments that are currently being built. We need another set of housing bonds to address the rising rental and housing market to ensure current Austin residents are not priced out of town.

How were the 2006 and 2013 bonds spent? What was the community impact?

In 2006, the voters of Austin approved the first ever affordable housing bonds, totaling $55 million. These funds were used to build and repair over 3400 homes for low-income families, people with disabilities, and seniors on fixed incomes. The bonds were also used to bring in an additional $197 million in federal and private matching money, a 4:1 match, and created 2500 new jobs.

All of the 2006 bond dollars were spent.

In 2013, the voters of Austin approved a second bond package, totalling $65 million. These funds were used to repair over 1,200 homes for Austin homeowners, and built hundreds of deeply affordable rental units that working families are now living in. In addition, the 2013 bonds continued to attract dollars from the Federal government for a 7:1 leverage ratio.

All of the 2013 bond dollars have been spent or dedicated to a service, meaning the need to pass new bonds to continue to address affordability is critical

How will these new housing bonds be put to use?

The proposed $250 million in new housing bonds will be used in the same way as the 2006 and 2013 bonds, building and repairing new homes and apartments for low-income families, people with disabilities, and seniors on fixed income can afford. In addition, the larger bond amount will allow The City to purchase land for future affordable housing developments.

What are the tax implications for voters?

The City Council’s proposed amount of $250 million for affordable housing is within the City of Austin’s current bonding capacity, which means there would be no property tax increase to pay for these bonds if the housing bonds were passed alone. However, the City Council is planning to place other important bond items on the ballot. Combined, the total bond package will cause the average taxpayer to see a modest increase in their property tax bill.

The $925 million bond package passed by Council in June would cost the average homeowner roughly

$60/year, or $5/month on the their property tax bill.

Why should the city continue to invest in affordable housing?

Austin continues to be an economically vibrant, rapidly growing city. This trend will continue to put pressure on both home and rental markets. Without investment from the City of Austin, families who work hard but do not earn a living wage and individuals on fixed incomes like seniors and people with disabilities will continue to find it a challenge to afford to live in the City they call home. If our shared values and vision for Austin include diversity and inclusivity, we must act with conviction and vote to invest in affordable housing.


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.

Evolve Austin Partnership

Evolve Austin Partnership

In June, the ACBA began a partnership with Evolve Austin, a united coalition of civic-minded organizations dedicated to ensuring the implementation of the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan. Imagine Austin is a community-driven set of directives compiled by the City to make Austin a more affordable, mobile, and sustainable city. Encouraging cooperative development is identified as a goal in several key areas of the Plan, which has been critical in our recent successes passing policy recommendations through City Council and the Economic Prosperity Commission. We look forward to working with Evolve Austin to further our City-level advocacy efforts on behalf of our membership.  Find out more.

Cooperatives defined in CodeNEXT

Our advocacy work has met with great success in the past few weeks. It has been difficult for housing co-ops to find places in which they can legally operate in Austin. The only properties in which they are allowed are the same relatively scarce properties that can be developed into market rate apartments and condos for higher returns along major roadways in Austin. The housing co-op sector lacks the often national or even international financial resources of profit-oriented real estate developers. They have also been lumped into the same land use category as boarding homes, dormitories and half-way houses which are often controversial within neighborhoods. A way to make cooperative housing development easier would be to allow co-ops in a wider range of planning zones than currently allowed for large apartment and condo buildings, and to separate them from other more controversial uses. We have taken concrete steps in these directions.

CodeNEXT is Austin’s new land development code, the document that determines what can be built where and how you can use those building. In the draft code Cooperatives are called out as a distinct land use for buildings. Because principled cooperatives have concern for community they make for more “organic” neighbors   who often engaged in local civic organizations and community volunteering. Housing co-ops can more easily integrate into an existing neighborhood fabric than larger, investment-driven development. This distinction will make it easier to for Cooperatives organized like a household to establish themselves in more residential areas of Austin.


Definition of Cooperative
Being a draft code, the definition  can and should be improved to reflect current cooperatives and encourage the development of new cooperatives all over Austin. The current CodeNEXT definition is:


“Cooperative Housing: A residential project of more than three units in which an undivided interest in land is coupled with the exclusive right of occupancy of any unit located on said land, whether such right is contained in the form of a written or oral agreement, when such right does not appear on the face of the deed.”


This is a good start toward a definition of cooperative housing, but it has some problems that require revision. The first issue is that “unit” is undefined in the draft code at this point. It is typically assumed that a unit is a living space that has both a kitchen and a bathroom. This is problematic because most of the 20+housing cooperatives in Austin are in single-unit buildings. Only two cooperatives in Austin currently have more than three units. These single unit co-ops are either large single-family homes housing between 8-33 people, or dormitory style buildings with anywhere between 30-130 residents. Two are multiunit buildings. The number of units is not a defining feature of a cooperative and should be removed from this definition.


The other issue concerns the “undivided interest in land coupled with the exclusive right of Occupancy.” To make sense of it, the undivided interest refers to a Cooperative Entity that entirely owns or manages a piece of real estate. Members have an equal ownership in the Co-op instead of individual ownership of the real estate. This attempt to differentiate the two is helpful, but this type of language is a reference to the contracts of Limited Equity Cooperatives. The primary type of housing co-op in Austin is the zero or common equity type. These do not give exclusive right of occupancy to a specific unit but give an inexclusive right of occupancy to a bedroom or a unit (not necessarily any particular one.)  and may also reserve the right to people to move into another space, typically used to make accommodations for policies such as the ADA or to help people experiencing severe maintenance issues, like a flooded bedroom.  

This definition does not reflect all types of existing housing cooperatives in Austin.   By not including democratic management and/or adherence to the Cooperative Principles, laid out here by the International Cooperative Alliance, this definition also might establish loopholes for non-cooperative developments.. It is important to make the definition of housing co-ops as clear as possible and insure it reflects the democratic spirit of existing cooperatives and democratic mission of the cooperative movement.

Call to action: The most important thing Cooperators can do right now is go comment on or reply to/upvote comments in regards to Cooperatives.  

To find the section and leave an original comment, go to page 207 of this document.


- Hannah Frankel’s comment which lists definitions from other cities.

- My comment which summarizes my critique above.

-Code Advisory Group Member Rich Heyman’s comment which lists why the existing definition does not do much to solve existing problem.