Bloomberg article

For those of y’all interested in a macro-level view of the ongoing housing crisis – including, but certainly not limited to, Austin – this Bloomberg article (free link here) is quite informative. Here’s a partial synopsis if the link doesn’t work:

More small multifamily homes are needed to help solve America’s housing crisis, but they make up an ever-shrinking share of new housing construction.

Housing construction in the US has long focused on single-family homes and large apartment buildings, leaving a deficit of everything in between—sometimes referred to as “middle housing” by housing experts and advocates. While the number of new apartment building units recently reached the highest point in nearly half a century, the construction of denser alternatives to single-family homes made up just 1% of new housing units built in 2022. Legislators and advocates are pushing for that to change, arguing that middle housing could lower costs and alleviate a national housing shortage.

States like Oregon, California and Maine have effectively ended single-family zoning, revising regulations to allow duplexes, triplexes and other multifamily units to be built, while lawmakers in Arizona and Rhode Island introduced similar legislation this year. President Joe Biden is also pushing for more middle housing with a plan that rewards areas that implement zoning reforms.

These efforts are trying to reverse a decades-long decline in middle housing that dates back to the post-World War II era, when many areas were rapidly zoned to permit only single-family homes, often to perpetuate racial exclusion and segregation. But proposed changes have also been met with backlash everywhere from Austin, Texas to New York City by those in the “Not in my Backyard” movement who view new developments as a threat.

Btw the Austin article links to a piece about the Council’s 9-2 vote to permit smaller lot sizes. Also, since I know quite a few people blame “greedy developers” for our woes, I’d note that the article repeats a point I’ve made before, mostly to deaf ears: that the ZNA (and every other Austin NA opposing zoning reform) is making every “luxury” home builder in town massively rich. (Case in point: Joseph Design Build, which has been officing out of retail space that I heard goes for $80 psf + triple-net at Lamar Union. Their “cheap” homes start at around $2.5M.) It is not the urbanist crowd doing anything of the sort:

The issue has taken on increased urgency since the 2008 recession, after which the construction of single-family homes and apartment buildings with 10 or more units rebounded even as middle housing lost further ground. The recession “decimated” the construction industry as homebuilders went out of business and has never fully recovered, said Daniel Parolek, the founding principal of architecture firm Opticos Design, who coined the term “missing middle housing.” Those that could stay open focused on what would deliver the highest profit: single-family homes.

And while I doubt we’ll see anything similar as long as Republicans control the lege, I’m hoping Austin will at some point arrive here (but the Council actively working with McKinsey to streamline City Hall process flows is a great start):

California’s Housing Opportunity and More Efficiency (HOME) Act, which took effect at the start of 2022, streamlines the process for building duplexes or subdividing lots for the construction of additional single or small multifamily homes. The state reports 165 units have been constructed as a result of the new legislation, and another 194 applications for lot splits have been submitted.

While these changes help smaller-scale developers who don’t have the budget to fight existing zoning laws, Andrew Malick, a developer in San Diego, said that finances are still a barrier to building middle housing.

And before anyone even bothers: yes, I am well aware that building any form of new housing nowadays is pricey, but the part typically overlooked by opponents to growth is that the single biggest element is the price of the underlying land – and that’s not anything that a city government can control, at least in Texas. In the aggregate, it is still far better to build thousands of rental apartments than a couple hundred multimillion-dollar mansions.

I’m not sure who, if anyone, has ever tried to define “neighborhood character,” but seemingly endless rows of $3M-$4M “luxury farmhouses” surrounded by seven-foot walls – walling them off from the neighborhood in general as well – and roads filled with luxury SUVs & more than a few Ferraris is a definition that belongs someplace like River Oaks, not South Austin.