Resolution proposed to relocate Austin historic homes, increase sustainability

Austin continues to grow, and with more people, come the need for more houses. 

One idea to boost housing is not building new, but rather preserving old.

Lindsey Derrington, executive director of Preservation Austin, joined FOX 7 Austin's Rebecca Thomas to discuss.


REBECCA THOMAS: Council member Ryan Alter is sponsoring a resolution to find ways to make it easier to relocate houses in Austin. Tell us about that proposal.

LINDSEY DERRINGTON: Yeah, it's a really exciting proposal because it changes the conversation around demolitions and what older and historic homes can do for housing today, and really looking at these homes as opportunities and not trash and landfill waste. So the resolution includes a number of directions to city staff to implement a number of initiatives that would support relocating houses within the city limits of Austin. These are houses that otherwise would be torn down and thrown away. It also includes provisions for a deconstruction ordinance. So starting the conversation about salvaging really valuable materials from homes that are being demolished so that we can reuse them elsewhere. As Austin is looking how to tackle climate change, this is a really important piece of that puzzle, as we as a city are looking at things like composting and recycling and all of that. How do we literally do that with the homes that we are demolishing today?

REBECCA THOMAS: What are some of the roadblocks or restrictions that the city could remove, and that this proposal would help with?

LINDSEY DERRINGTON: Relocation of pier and beam frame houses used to be pretty common in Austin. We saw it a lot more in the 80s than in the 90s, but that the number of these projects has really diminished over the past decade in large part because of tweaks in city processes and how the city handles these relocations. When someone purchases a property, they want to redevelop it. Oftentimes that's to build a larger single family home in place of the existing smaller historic home that's there. They've got to pay for the demolition, but oftentimes those people will be happy to sell that historic house to somebody or just give it away. They'll post these things to Craigslist or Facebook and say, "I've got this house, who wants it?" But then there's a clock that starts because the person who's building te new home needs that house off their property now. And the person who wants to take the home and move it to a different location wants that house, too. But they have to go through a whole series of things. So switching the demolition to a relocation permit, they've got to park that house somewhere while they get their new site plan approved by the city. So what the resolution is looking at is how do we just tweak some of those processes to make it faster and easier for these projects to happen? Because people want this today. And I think the more people learn that this is an option, they will want it, too. It just has to be feasible and not as hard as it is currently.


REBECCA THOMAS: So when it comes to sustainability, it keeps these older homes out of landfills. Let's talk about affordability: How could relocating homes within the city of Austin help with affordability?

LINDSEY DERRINGTON: I think one of the benefits of preservation is it is sustainable, and it does support affordability goals. It's not the answer to affordability by any means, but these are 1000 and 1100 square foot homes. They are more naturally occurring affordable housing, they are less expensive. And the new construction that's going in, and maybe that house is not going to stay on its original site; but you could move that across town and put it on another lot. You could put more than one of these smaller historic homes on a lot. And that's very exciting because, again, they're being thrown away today. Each of these 1100 square foot homes contributes about 25 ons of landfill waste to our local landfills. That's a lot, and we're losing several hundred of them every year. 25 percent of the waste in Travis County landfills is from construction demolition. So even just by the numbers, we can save 50 homes, move them elsewhere, help them to be affordable housing elsewhere. That's a win.