The Texas capital is trying to meet its affordable housing demands with an incentive program called SMART (Safe, Mixed-Income, Accessible, Reasonably Priced, Transit-Oriented) Housing.
The award-winning program provides for certain fee waivers as well as faster review and inspection times for developers building qualifying housing projects.
For example, if 10 percent of a project’s units are “reasonably priced,” a developer could have 25 percent of certain city development fees waived. The waivers are on a sliding scale, so the higher the percentage of affordable units, the greater the waiver, all the way up to 100 percent.
The families being served earn no more than 80 percent of median family income and spend no more than 30 percent of their gross income on housing. The for-sale homes created under the program sell for between $120,000 and $125,000. Multifamily projects can also take part in the SMART program.
“It’s doing its job, which is to spark development inside city limits,” said Kelly Weiss, community development administrator for the Austin Housing Finance Corp., which oversees the SMART program.
Since the program began in 2000, 2,659 single-family units and 4,904 multifamily units have been created, she said.
Developers can also have their projects fast-tracked through the review process. And SMART Housing staff will help developers resolve any issues with other city departments.
With SMART, officials have a tool to encourage the development of affordable housing. The next challenge is to keep the units affordable, according to Weiss.
Under the initial program, the multifamily units have a five-year affordability requirement. As a result, officials are looking at possible ways to extend the affordability of the units. They are also exploring the idea of establishing a community land trust.