The Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee has proposed a new overlay that would affect the neighborhoods of West University, North University, and the Hancock neighborhood. The new overlay would require all future group housing projects (private dormitories, Greek housing, Co-ops) to apply for a conditional use permit (a costly, time-consuming process). Group housing was part of the original plan for the area, so it makes no sense why it would be changed now. West Campus is not affected (as per the University Neighborhood Overlay), however the prices are prohibitively high for many renters, let alone students wanting to build or purchase new property in the future. The University of Texas at Austin's Student Government's resolution, AR-3, uses facts and figures to argue against this new overlay because this is an issue of affordability and student opinion was not properly consulted before this overlay was proposed.
I am writing to you as an Austin voter to ask that you reject proposed changes to the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood regarding group residential use. The Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee (CANPAC) has proposed a zoning ordinance amendment to the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan, adopted in 2004, that would create a “Central Austin University Area” District Overlay that would require a conditional use permit (CUP) for all new group residential MF-4 development.
• Creating such an overlay would stunt the growth of affordable housing throughout the zoned MF-4 region by making property acquisition more costly and risky.
• Cooperative housing costs about 6,500 dollars per year with food as compared to 9,400 for a West Campus apartment without food or utility costs and over 12,000 per year for on campus housing with food, providing an affordable option for students who wish to live near campus.
• Apartment developers on the other hand would be able to continue building housing in residential neighborhoods without interference.
• Since 2004, no student opinion was consulted or garnered to create the special conditional use permit in the proposed zoning ordinance amendment, and when students gained representation, they have repeatedly opposed and tried to stop any proposed changes on all levels of the city process.
• Properties unacceptable for the group residential use should be handled individually.
Group residential housing, including Greek housing and cooperative housing, provides a close-knit community of friends during an important transition period in young people’s lives.
Specific Benefits of Cooperative Housing
The skills, training, and leadership experience obtained from cooperative living impact the future economy of Austin greatly. Cooperative members attain a wide and practical education, including experience in direct democratic processes, conflict resolution, organizational management, meeting facilitation, home maintenance and repair, kitchen management and cooking, gardening and grounds upkeep, and many other important life skills. Housing cooperatives are cornerstones of building cooperative economies rooted in economic democracy. Much of the cooperative economy in Austin would not exist if not for the student cooperatives that preceded them. Student co-opers often go on to become members, employees, and founders of new and existing cooperative enterprises. Cooperatives support each other, making investments that help launch new ventures. For example, College Houses and ICC have invested thousands in funds into Wheatsville, Black Star, and other cooperatives.
The City of Austin should dedicate itself to helping its citizens better themselves and their community. This is achieved by making higher education more attainable. Passing this amendment would unnecessarily make the already hefty goal of attaining a college degree even more formidable. Voting for these proposed changes would be overly burdensome to the community to solve a non-existent problem. I would like to see City Council’s support for the development and growth of cooperatives. I urge you to protect affordable student-owned housing.