The city as a landlord

The city should increase its real estate portfolio.

The city as a landlord
A film crew on the Pfluger Bridge this morning.

Tomorrow City Council will vote on a resolution asking the city manager to look for land the city can purchase to turn into affordable housing. The resolution, authored by Natasha Harper-Madison, puts particular emphasis on developing community land trusts.

It is fitting that this resolution comes the same day that Council is poised to hire a new city manager, since the word is that outgoing manager Jesus Garza is not a fan of land banking.

CLTs are an idea that has drawn support from across Austin's housing policy spectrum. Essentially, the city buys and sells homes to people but the city maintains ownership of the land, which allows people to get the houses at well below market rates.

The existing CLT program is very small and is funded entirely from a small chunk of the 2018 bond. It consists of three dozen old single-family houses around the city.

I think it would be very hard to argue that this was the most productive way to spend the city's limited housing dollars. Even if it worked out as intended, the impact would be minimal. However, at least as of late 2022 the program was struggling to find qualified buyers because, due to high interest rates, even the comparatively low sales prices for the homes were too much for most low-income people.

The value of value capture

But the city absolutely should be buying more land, both to create public amenities –– parks, affordable housing etc –– and, frankly, to make money.

The city already has a significant real estate portfolio from which it derives revenue. The City Hall parking garage, for instance! But there's never really been a concerted effort to acquire real estate to support the city's finances.