One only needs to study the transition of East Riverside to get a pretty good picture of why Austin is headed in the wrong direction. We are enabling the forces that destroy affordability by master planning and corridor-izing Austin into an entirely different place. Call it unaffordability by design.
Last December, the Statesman did a great article on the destruction of affordable student apartments on East Riverside. You can talk about supply and demand all day long, but if you purposely design a supply of unaffordable housing, you will stimulate a demand for it. And don't be surprised when the result is higher taxes, road congestion, displacement of current residents, etc.
What Austin could be doing is looking for ways to upgrade neighborhoods without tearing down all the existing properties. The Airport Blvd. neighborhood could probably use some infrastructure upgrades and a few amenities. But as soon as you start bulldozing homes and apartments and building new luxury units, there goes another huge chunk of working class people. The solution to all of that is to work with the neighbors and solicit their input into the master plans.
I can tell you right now what will happen if we continue down the same path that we are on. You will see a Ben White Corridor Plan, a William Cannon Corridor Plan, and eventually South Congress and Barton Springs Road Corridor Plans. The next thing you know, every last pocket of middle class living in Austin will be replaced by big-box apartment megaplexes. They will all look exactly the same, no matter which part of town you are in. Then once all of the major thoroughfares have been transformed, the movement will spread gradually to the outskirts.
It all comes down to the intent behind the plans. You can't expect an affordable future if the plans so plainly and so obviously call for the exact opposite. So, what I am saying is you can either accept the status quo as unstoppable and inevitable, or set about changing it to create a better result. But if you decide to accept the status quo, you will drive yourself crazy trying to make Austin affordable after the fact. Any chance of succeeding there would be next to impossible.
Bill Oakey, retired accountant at www.austinaffordability.com