Austin City Council takes on housing market, I-35 expansion

Austin has been growing so fast, the housing market is having a hard time keeping up. 

This has led to new efforts by the Austin City Council to update the Land Development Code, but not everyone is on board with some of the proposals. 

District Six council member Mackenzie Kelly joined FOX 7 Austin's Rebecca Thomas to discuss.

Rebecca Thomas: So right now, the council is working to finalize a plan that would reduce minimum lot size requirements and allow more units in existing single family lots. And many of our viewers may have gotten notices in the mail about this last week. What would this do for our current housing challenges?

Mackenzie Kelly: Well, it's no surprise to anybody that we currently have a housing crisis in the city. We are lacking housing for as many people as are moving here every day. We have challenges related to people who work at the city, particularly in public safety, who cannot afford to live in the city that they protect. And so what this aims to do is get us more housing. It plans on allowing more types of housing on these lots so that we can get that housing up in numbers so that we can make up for the people who are moving here and give them a place to stay. It's really important that we get the city more housing, but doing that's going to be a challenge with some of the pushback that we've been getting from constituents regarding these changes. They're rather unexpected, and I want the community to come to our meeting on Thursday next week and talk to us about what their concerns are, so we can address them.

Rebecca Thomas: I know some residents, some people are concerned that changes would allow developers to come in and eventually price out current homeowners already struggling to afford rising property taxes or people who are trying to buy their first homes. Is that a valid fear?

Mackenzie Kelly: I absolutely think it's a valid fear. In fact, today I had someone in my office who told me about a situation that she had when she was younger where that exact same thing happened to her and her family. And she still has trauma from it now. What I think is really important to remind people who live in the community is that while that is a fear, the likelihood of that happening is very slim. It does cost quite a bit of money for people to have a developer come in and make those changes to their property. And in most cases, people want to remain staying in Austin. I haven't talked to one person who has even said that they plan on selling their home and letting a developer come in and do this. I also think it's important to remember that none of this is set in stone yet. And part of these listening sessions that the city is going to have, and the city manager has facilitated, including the one that's coming up on Thursday with the Planning Commission and the city Council, it's a joint meeting will allow for that type of input to be heard and for us to consider it as we go through this process.

Rebecca Thomas: Okay. So again, that meeting, that first one is next Thursday. What time it.

Mackenzie Kelly: It's at 6 p.m.

Rebecca Thomas: Okay. Another issue, the city council is also tapping the brakes on the I-35 expansion project to study its potential effect on emissions. Pollution is a concern here. Mackenzie U. Mayor Kirk Watson, Council member Leslie Poole voted against the resolution, which did pass. What are your concerns? What happens now?

Mackenzie Kelly: Yeah, so one of my biggest concerns is that I was born and raised here in Austin. I've lived here 37 years and ever since I can remember 35 has been a mess. It is always going to be a mess. One of the things that people who are concerned about air quality seem to leave out of the conversation is that the more time people spend in traffic idling their vehicles on the roadway, the more emissions they are producing and the worse the air quality is. Look, I'll tell you, I read the air quality report that Tex Scott did about this expansion project, and it said that the emissions were not even going to exceed national standards. It's something that I feel if we delay this project, if we continue to push back on it as a city council, then we're making a grave mistake because we are going to miss out on further opportunities for tech stock to help us expand our infrastructure.