On the Council message board last week, CM Leslie Pool, the lead sponsor of proposals to reduce minimum lot sizes and allow three units per lot, offered some additional ideas to make the new housing lower-priced.
FAR limits –– the Floor to Area Ratio is a part of most zoning in Austin. It dictates the amount of floor space allowed on a given lot.
"In my conversation with staff and experts, that limit could be .4 or .5 depending on how many homes are being constructed," said Pool.
On a 6,000 sq ft lot, a FAR of 0.5 would mean that you could build a maximum of 3,000 sq ft of floor space, whether that's one monstrous unit or three 1,000 sq ft units.
It's important to understand that FAR is similar but distinct from impervious cover limits, which only restrict the amount of ground that can be covered. A FAR limit would also restrict you adding more floor space through a second story.
Preservation incentive –– "I have mentioned this before, but I am interested in crafting a meaningful preservation incentive that is accessible to homeowners," wrote Pool. "Existing homes have inherent value and keeping those materials out of the landfill is environmentally sustainable."
This has been an idea that was included in previous land development code rewrite efforts. The goal is to encourage builders to maintain, rather than replace, old houses. The question here is whether Pool is. considering making the proposed three-unit entitlement contingent on preservation, or if she is considering offering something in addition to the three units in exchange for preservation.
I don't think that either of these ideas are bad on their face, but Council should be extremely cautious and make sure to consult with experts first. A well-intentioned but poorly-crafted FAR limit or preservation incentive could end up neutering the HOME initiative.
There's a defense of exclusionary zoning. Just not an economic one
Something I tweeted the other day that generated a lot of responses:
To elaborate: proponents of single-family zoning in recent years have sought to frame the debate in traditional left v. right terms, where they are defenders of sensible regulations that protect the marginalized from rapacious business interests, and YIMBYs are libertarian deregulators.
The problem is that, in sharp contrast to other economic debates, such as over banking regulations or the minimum wage, all of the economic scholarship points in one direction. There are no progressive economists out there calling for low-density zoning as tool of economic justice. Quite the opposite.
There are certainly areas of housing policy that prompt traditional left-right divides: rent control, public housing, and any number of tenant protections.
But there's simply no classic left-of-center economic argument for single-family zoning. People support single-family zoning because they want to live in single-family neighborhoods.
The arrest of Jonathan Kringen
I only realized yesterday that I had completely missed the news of Jonathan Kringen's arrest last week. Kringen is APD's data scientist. Most recently, the department relied on him to argue that crime data proved the success of the DPS deployment in the spring.
Kringen was arrested on domestic violence charges and the account of the incident, given by APD officers who may or may not have known him, is very ugly and sad.