For Ken Bodeman, Austin’s housing affordability issues are illustrated by his mother-in-law, who he said has moved eight times in 14 years.
“Each move got more expensive and further away from Central Austin,” he said.
As CEO of all abode, an Austin-based company focused on micro-housing, Bodeman says he hopes to provide more affordable housing options to people like his mother-in-law and other middle-income Austinites.
Affordable housing advocates, mortgage brokers, real estate investors, policy wonks and others crowded into Impact Hub’s North Lamar offices to watch presentations on housing challenges and potential solutions from the nine companies.
In videotaped remarks kicking off the event, Austin Mayor Steve Adler praised the program as the first issue-specific impact accelerator in the state, and one tackling a complex issue where Austin has the opportunity to lead other cities in housing innovation.
“The answers that will guide us forward are going to come out of environments just like this,” Adler said.
Prior to the event, Ashley Phillips, managing director for Impact Hub Austin, explained the accelerator’s purpose: “The idea is that we use our talents and skill set to serve a complex issue and continue to work at it,” she said. “It’s hard and there’s no unicorns but I think it’s a very worthy and honorable thing to do.”
Forty mentors and six sponsors took part in the accelerator’s first cohort, and Phillips said the opportunity to collaborate across sectors generated lots of interest. The cohort included organizations involved in financing, housing policy and data, construction and other areas.
“The really cool thing about being an issue-specific accelerator is that it breeds collaboration,” Phillips said.
Several of the presentations including Bodeman’s focused on accessory dwelling units -- known as ADUs by those in the industry -- as an affordable housing option. An ADU is a second dwelling -- such as a garage apartment or a granny flat -- on the same property as an existing single-family house.
Marla Torrado, program coordinator for the Austin Community Design and Development Center, offered a presentation on the subject from the association's Alley Flat Initiative. By adding an ADU on their property, “low income homeowners (would be) able to stay in place, generating some extra income every month and providing an affordable rental for a household who needs it,” Torrado said. The group plans to run a pilot program with 10 Austin homeowners this summer.
Finding nontraditional financing options for affordable housing was another theme of the first cohort. Rachel Stone from the Triple Bottom Line Foundation presented plans to make financing available to landlords of older multifamily housing to perform green rehab projects and deliver a return to investors. Already, the foundation has invested $15 million in projects across Colorado and New Mexico, with plans to expand into Texas.
The evening ended with a presentation from Jefre Outlaw of Sprout Tiny Homes, which last month landed a $26 million contract to provide 275 "tiny homes" on foundations in South Austin and Kyle. While there is some variation within the industry, tiny homes are usually defined as being between 100 and 400 square feet.
Outlaw said there is broad interest in tiny homes -- but said more work is needed to solve financing issues related to tiny homes on wheels.
This spring, an Impact Hub Austin accelerator will tackle affordability issues from another angle, focusing on workplace development and matching middle-income jobs in Austin to residents who can fill those jobs.
In addition to stabilizing housing prices, “you can try to raise someone’s income so that they can afford a product or service,” Phillips said.“We’ll look at both of the sides of the coin.” In the fall, a new cohort will tackle housing affordability.
While some, like Sprout Tiny Homes, are already implementing solutions, other members of the cohort are still in the pilot or proof-of-concept stage. Still, Phillips said, the accelerator has exceeded her initial expectations.
“Every single team will come out of this and will continue after the accelerator,” she said. “Some will have to take a hard pivot and see what a more viable path forward is … (but) I’ve been really heartened by this radically hopeful community.”
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