In 2023 urbanists, activists, city council, and staff succeeded in legalizing townhouses, removing poorly defined parking mandates, expanding affordable and workforce housing, improving multi-modal transportation access, making it easier to open a day care, and much more all with the goal of making Austin more livable for all!

City of Austin Achievements

Parking Mandates Removed (November 2nd)

Austin became the largest city in the country to remove parking mandates on Nov 2nd, 2023. Parking mandates are historically based on little data leading to absurdly large parking lots and excessive residential parking. There’s an estimated 700,000,000 to 2,000,000,000 parking spaces across the US. It’s so large that nobody actually knows the true number. You can read more about them on our parking mandates page.

Home Options for Middle-Income Empowerment (December 7th)

HOME Phase 1 passed with a supermajority vote of 9-2. The bill had broad based support from Austin Habitat for Humanity, AARP Texas, Housing Works Austin, Preservation Austin, Austin EMS Association, and many other organizations.

The new law will allow up to 3 homes to be built on a single family lot. This measure removes artificial supply restrictions from Austin’s 1984 land development code that have played a significant part in making housing unaffordable. Importantly it also comes with amendments that strongly encourage preservation of existing structures that will help prevent displacement:

  • The Preservation Bonus which provides incentives to encourage the preservation of 100% of a pre-1960 home’s facade and 50% or more of its structure.
  • The Sustainability Bonus which provides incentives to preserve 50% or more of a post-1960s home’s materials.

You can learn more about HOME here and on atxhomecoalition.com. If you want to learn about the details of the preservation and sustainability bonus then check out Preservation Austin’s announcement of support for HOME.

For Phase 2 of HOME, which will be taken up by City Council this spring, Preservation Austin will advocate for new people-centered policies, especially for East Austin’s Black and Brown communities, to level the playing field between homeowners and developers and prevent further displacement. In 2023, Preservation Austin and the City of Austin’s Displacement Prevention Division released a report on how preserving historic-age housing can support affordability goals, prevent displacement, and preserve culture. Findings recommended that the city expand existing home repair and community land trust programs, and that it develop new tools like the Preservation Bonus to help homeowners monetize their property through the construction of ADUs.

Lindsey Derrington, Executive Director, Preservation Austin

Easier to Open a Daycare Center (October 19th)

Child care centers can now open in more convenient locations within the City of Austin. Previously child care centers needed to be in certain areas which limited the amount of child care centers in Austin and required parents to travel long distances just to drop off and pick up their children. The removal of these restrictions are intended to make child care more accessible to working class families and more convenient for everyone.

The zoning process can be time consuming and expensive. Additionally, because zoning allowed day cares only in certain areas, there was a lack of them in others. There were 31 ZIP codes in Austin designated as child care deserts, Fuentes said.

“If we’re really serious about addressing affordability we have to make child care more affordable, and we have to make it more convenient for families all across our city,” she said.

Council Member Vanessa Fuentes via KXAN

ATX Walk Bike Roll (November 30th)

Austin updated and expanded their extensive plans to build more bike lanes, side walks, urban trails, and other multi-modal transportation options for those who can’t or don’t want to drive. Biking is already a very enjoyable, and environmentally sustainable option with very low infrastructure impact so it’s great to see the city expanding options for commuting and recreation. We’ve got a page on biking too, lots of tips in there if you’re interested in taking advantage of this new infrastructure.

Austin’s Metro Bikes are Expanding and Going Fully Electric (October 26th)

Austin recently received a $11.3M federal grant that will allow the city to expand the size of its fleet while going fully electric. This may sound like a luxury but e-bikes enable more people to bike and to travel further by bike than they could have before. Letting more people reach more public transportation, jobs, and educational opportunities. Plus it’s a great way to get out more, enjoy the weather, and see friends. If you’ve never tried an e-bike before then maybe hop on a MetroBike or stop by an e-bike store for a test ride. Did you know the City of Austin will give you a rebate on an e-bike? There’s even better rebates for those on Austin Energy’s Customer Assistance Program.

Since its launch, MetroBike has proven to be an extremely popular mode of transportation in Austin, especially among university students. MetroBike usage has steadily grown since 2019, from less than 5,000 to 12,000 trips per month during the pandemic. As the City added ebikes to the fleet, it has reached nearly 28,000 monthly trips as of April 2023. The service also peaks in popularity during major events, reaching 34,000 in the 2021 ACL Festival; 37,000 during 2022 South by Southwest; and 43,000 at the 2022 ACL Festival.

City of Austin

Barton Springs Road Safety Pilot (Late August)

A pedestrian heavy section of Barton Springs Road received a road safety pilot in late August with the goal of reducing vehicle speeding, adding bike lanes, and overall making the road safer and more pleasant for this busy area. The diet is in a 1-year trial phase but already showing significant increases in safety with no real impact to travel times. This change was made in response to a severe crash that severely injured 10 people on Barton Springs Road in April 2022. You can read the full BSR Road Safety Pilot’s Frequently Asked Questions here.

“And for five of those six periods on eastbound and westbound, we’ve seen a reduction in travel times. It’s more efficient to get through in the single lane, with the one exception being westbound, there’s about 10 seconds of extra delay in the morning. So what we’ve seen is really significant safety results that we were trying to achieve with minimal impacts of travel time through the corridor,”

Lewis Leff via KXAN

Capital-A Affordable Housing Expanding

More affordable housing is being built thanks to a combination of city policy and the activism of those dedicated to housing those most in need. Some notable projects we’re aware of are:

Austin Rents Down Due to Apartments Being Built

While the rental market is complex it’s hard to deny that building more housing reduces rent costs. Like really hard to deny. Study after study says so but more work must be done.

Such is the case in Austin where large increases to the amount of apartment buildings has caused rents to drop -5.6% YoY which you can read more about on our NIMBY rebuttals page.

When a bunch of tech firms open up headquarters in Austin and create lots of high-paying jobs there, more high-skill workers will move into the city to take those jobs. Those workers will demand housing, and developers will respond by increasing construction.

But you can’t stop the yuppies from coming by blocking that construction. So long as high-paying jobs are being created in your city, high-income workers are going to move there. If there is no new “luxury” housing to absorb them, they will simply outbid less affluent residents for the housing units that already exist. Thus the less new housing that gets built, the faster rents will rise in a booming city.

Eric Levitz, Intelligencer

It’s Now Easier to Open Music Venues (September 14th)

Live music is truly part of the soul of Austin and one of the things that makes this city both great and unique. The new ordinance now makes it easier to open music venues outside of downtown without your venue needing to also be a bar or a nightclub. Despite the city’s rich musical history you needed to previously get licensed as a bar in order to have live music. Now that is no more and music venues are treated as valid forms of entertainment and recreation in their own right.

$22.9M in Funding for Safer Streets (September 14th)

Austin’s Safe Streets for All program is going to see a big boost in funding thanks to a federal grant from the US Department of Transportation. According to the City of Austin it will provide for “safety improvements at more than 60 locations throughout the city”.

Thursday’s Council action sets in motion plans to implement safety improvements at more than 60 locations throughout the city, with specific project locations to be chosen after further analysis is completed. Austin’s SS4A grant will fund:

  • major intersection safety projects at 5-7 locations
  • up to 10 pedestrian hybrid beacons
  • low-cost, systemic safety treatments such as high-visibility crosswalk markings, street lighting, and traffic signal improvements at dozens of locations throughout the city
  • a safety education campaign primarily focused on roundabouts and video analytics for safety analysis and evaluation

City of Austin

Texas Achievements

Crash Not Accident Passes (June 12th)

A multi-year long effort to get all references to car “accidents” in Texas law to be changed to “crashes” has passed. This may seem small but it is a necessary step in acknowledging the great harm that car crashes cause citizens of Texas. Many of these crashes are preventable with better road design, driver responsibility, and alternatives to commuting by car. Calling them “accidents” minimizes the true harm and cost of car crashes.

In 2017 1,617,597 people were involved in vehicle crashes in the Texas transportation system, killing almost 3,800 of them and severely injuring 17,956 of them. About 1,700 times a day people are involved in a crash somewhere in Texas – on average every 51 seconds. An average day in the Texas transportation system takes ten lives and leaves 50 people with life-changing serious injuries like brain damage or loss of a limb.

Scott White, Farm & City

Jaywalking Partially Decriminalized (June 13th)

Believe it or not prior to September 1, 2023 if you weren’t in a car, and the street you were walking down didn’t have sidewalks, you could be stopped and fined for jaywalking. HB1277 half corrects this by requiring someone walking in a road without sidewalks to be walking on the left side of the street.

Statewide Lot Size and Compatibility Reforms Get Close to Victory

Bills reducing the minimum lot size needed to build a home, compatibility restrictions on height, and legalizing “granny flats” (aka ADUs) got extremely close to passing. They ultimately didn’t pass this time but how close we got only underlines the importance of getting involved so that next session we can get much needed housing reform passed and get more homes built for the people who need them.

Proponents of building more homes pushed legislation that would loosen city housing regulations and enlisted many Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature to help push the proposals over the line.

But those bills hit a wall this week amid opposition from both parties and neighborhood groups that work passionately to kill any attempt to build new housing in their areas. Democrats also cited concerns that the bills would further infringe on cities’ and counties’ ability to make their own rules on housing.

“There are many lessons Texas can learn from expensive states like California of what happens when you don’t build housing to accommodate job growth and family growth, before it’s too late for Texas’ middle class,” said Nicole Nosek, head of Texans for Reasonable Solutions, a nonprofit that pushed the housing bills this session.

Joshua Fechter, The Texas Tribune