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Austin REALTORS® Work To Make CodeNEXT A Reality for Homeowners

By HOM Editor
July 2017


REALTORS have been heavily involved with CodeNEXT, an initiative to rewrite Austin's existing Land Development Code.Click To Tweet

The city of Austin, TX is known for being a politically progressive and modern urban destination. The city’s existing development codes however? Not so modern at all. Austin’s Board of REALTORS® (ABoR) noted in a recent member newsletter that, “The last major rewrite of Austin’s Land Development Code took place in 1984, when Apple had just released the Macintosh Personal Computer, the USSR was busy boycotting the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and Ronald Reagan was President.”

The fact is, the city’s building guidelines were updated more than 30 years ago – when Austin’s population was less than half the size it is today. It is no surprise that Austin experienced a population boom. The city’s popular music scene, award winning barbeque and beautiful public spaces continue to be a draw for many prospective homeowners.

Despite the antiquated building guidelines new construction and renovations have continued, with the city amending the code as issues arise. However, this band-aid approach has produced an overly complicated system that is difficult to navigate, inflates costs for consumers, and doesn’t provide the variety of housing needed in a growing city. The historical code also fails to address modern day issues such as growing demands on the city’s natural resources, a lack of affordable housing, food deserts, access to healthcare, and limited options for transportation.

In 2012, Austin’s City Council adopted the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan – a plan that laid out the city’s vision for the future, including managing the continuing growth. The plan included CodeNEXT, an ambitious initiative to rewrite the existing Land Development Code and create updated criteria for “what, where and how much can be built in Austin.”

ABoR has been heavily involved with CodeNEXT from the start, advocating for a code that is simpler, more transparent, and good for the long-term health of Austin. Andrei Lubomudrov, ABoR’s Government Affairs Analyst elaborates. “The Land Development Code is critical to defining property rights as well as the long-term viability of our housing market.” ABoR has been a key voice in raising awareness about the need for an updated development code with community members.

The organization has invested considerable time educating its membership, with the goal of equipping REALTORS® to help current and prospective homebuyers understand the negative impact the existing code has on home values as well as raising awareness about the CodeNEXT initiative. Education and advocacy around the new code has been ABoR’s key public policy priority as many homeowners feel that the rewrite is the most important issue the city council will face this year.

ABoR has also been reaching out to Austin council members in order to stay connected and act as a resource. They recently spoke with District 2 Council Member Delia Garza who explained how the existing code was hurting the residents in her district. Garza shared that while affordable housing and transportation remain key issues for Austin, the health issues resulting from the outdated code are her priority.

In particular, district 2 has many areas that are considered “food deserts,” in part because the existing code prevents the development of needed grocery stores and quality food outlets, and also because lower-density land uses do not create the residential mass needed to attract large-scale grocers. This lack of healthy food options is more than an inconvenience as one part of District 2 has the highest rate of childhood obesity in the city. Garza stated, “While health disparities, particularly access to healthcare and healthy food, may seem at odds with the issues of affordability and transportation, all of these issues are connected at the heart of it.”

So far, in 2017, the process has been bumpy as the draft proposed code has been widely viewed as falling short of expectations. Yet, despite the many pitfalls of deciding land use policy for a city that ABoR CEO Paul Hilgers often describes as “traditionally opposed to both sprawl and density,” ABoR continues to make raising awareness about the importance of CodeNEXT a priority.

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