Elon Musk calls for 'urgent' need to build more housing in Austin

A house on Tracy Miller Lane in Cedar Park is an example of how demand is outpacing supply.

A "For Sale" sign went up this past Thursday and on Monday real estate agent Kelsey Haderer was back to add a new sign that read "Under Contract".

"I anticipated it to move fast, because of how the market has been going, since January, but how fast it did go, and the amount of offers we go in, and what they were, really surprised me," said Haderer.

The new Tesla Gigafactory under construction in Southeast Austin is expected to only increase demand for housing. It's why Tesla CEO Elon Musk is now asking where his new employees will live.

On a social media post last week, Musk noted that the "Help Wanted" sign is out for 10,000 jobs. That was followed with a post Sunday morning stating "Urgent need to build more housing in greater Austin area."



New homes are being built and the number is increasing. Over the past 5 years, according to the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin, permits have gone up from 15,700 in 2016 to just over 21,500 in 2020. But prices have also dramatically increased.

"My concern is that a lot of first-time homebuyers and buyers in the lower price ranges, they are out of options to be in Central Austin, and they have to go out further to Jarrell, Taylor and even further, and it’s just because the new builds, everything is being bought out everything is being bid up and there is no stock, we are at the lowest inventory ever," said Haderer.

That squeeze will not only be felt by Tesla workers. "We are proposing a Marshall Plan for housing all across the county," said Travis County Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion.

The plan will have a broad focus. "Making sure that we are helping teachers, we are helping police officers that we are helping people who work in the fire service, be able to afford to live here," said Travillion

Travillion believes the marketplace cannot close the gap by itself, which is why he is pitching concepts like land trusts and land banking where housing is built on public land to lower costs.

"You're buying an interest in the property, over the ground, not the ground itself," said Travillion.

Buying the structure, and not the land, would not be a one-time event. "So, the next generation who lives there is still working with an affordable property," said Travillion.

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Travillion said efforts are now underway to identify usable public land. A summit will be held this fall to consider ideas from other parts of the country that may work here.

Affordability is a problem that can be addressed by some house cleaning by local governments, according to the HBA, and the association's president Chad Durham called the current housing situation a "perfect storm."

"Over the years in the Greater Austin Area, we have seen rules and regulations added to the books, and rarely are regulations removed from the books. This results in a convoluted patchwork of regulations that are difficult for permitting authorities to process, track, and manage. Often these extra regulations add additional permitting time and staff to process and manage, which is then passed along to our industry, and in turn, affects housing supply and cost for the consumer," Durham said.

"Cities should look at the development processes with an eye for project permitting efficiency, and removal of unnecessary regulations and cost. They should look for ways to improve communication with builders and use technology to streamline processes to reduce the amount of time it takes to get housing supply to the market," he continued.