Growing List of Organizations Join AURA’s Call to Legalize Backyard Cottages Across Austin

For Immediate Release

Growing List of Organizations Join AURA’s Call to Legalize Backyard Cottages Across Austin

AURA will host a press conference Tuesday, June 9th at 12 PM at City Hall

June 9, 2015

Austin, Texas

AURA, a grassroots non-profit that works toward an Austin for Everyone, is proud to announce the support of a broad coalition of organizations in the call for Austin City Council to allow Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)—known colloquially as granny flats, garage apartments, or backyard cottages—to be built by any homeowner in Austin.

As of Tuesday, June 9th, the list of civic organizations who support AURA’s recommendations for code amendments to reduce barriers to ADU development and to create programs to encourage their construction, include Friends of Hyde ParkCaritas of AustinAustin Habitat for HumanityAustin Community Design and Development CenterAustin Music People, and the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation. The growing coalition of organizations urging reform includes affordable housing advocates and developers, inclusive neighborhood associations, organizations dedicated to ending homelessness, and advocates for the people behind Austin’s world class music culture.

In addition to the community groups listed, more than 800 Austinites have signed AURA’s petition urging Austin’s City Council to allow granny flats and other small houses everywhere in Austin.

AURA board member Eric Goff says, “We knew that ADUs were popular, but we’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of support we’ve received from such a broad and diverse group of advocacy organizations and citizens. The bottom line is that all Austinites want to ensure middle and lower income residents will continue to have a place inside the community as Austin grows. AURA’s recommendations on Backyard Cottages are the first step towards making this happen.”

AURA and allied organizations will deliver the petition along with a report detailing policy amendments and their benefits to City Council during a press conference scheduled at 12 PM on Tuesday, June 9th at City Hall.

Fight Housing Crisis by Legalizing Backyard Cottages Everywhere

For Immediate Release

AURA Calls on Austin City Council to Fight Housing Crisis by Legalizing Backyard Cottages Everywhere
New report released today demonstrates that new rules can create thousands of of new affordable homes

June 8, 2015
Austin, Texas

AURA, a grassroots non-profit that works toward an Austin for Everyone, calls on City Council to adopt a comprehensive ordinance that gives all homeowners across the city the option to build a backyard cottage (also known as an Accessory Dwelling Unit, or ADUs). Simplified rules proposed by AURA will lower the cost of new small homes, allow more of them in every neighborhood, and help Austinites struggling with housing costs to get more revenue from their homes or to rent an affordable home.

AURA’s new report, “ADU City: How Granny Flats and Garage Apartments Can Save Austin” (embedded below) demonstrates that newly constructed backyard cottages offer natural market-rate affordability for households making 80% of the median family income in the Austin area, that Austin can expect at least 500 new accessory dwelling units constructed each year if AURA’s suggested ordinance is adopted, that backyard cottages are an important tool to fight gentrification, stabilize neighborhoods, and build affordable housing, and that ADUs can even directly fight sprawl-based traffic congestion. As AURA Board Member Brennan Griffin says, “Austin voters demanded more affordability in November, and our report lays out a substantial first step towards delivering it.”

Tomorrow, June 9th, AURA will host a rally and press conference at noon at City Hall. Later, at 2pm, the City Council Planning and Neighborhoods Committee will consider code amendments on accessory dwellings for the first time. AURA Member Mary Pustejovsky says “Committee Chairman Gregorio Casar wants more affordable housing for Austin, and I think AURA’s proposal is an excellent first step in making that happen.”  More than 750 Austinites have signed AURA’s petition asking City Council to address this issue head-on. AURA calls on all Austinites to join us and demand this action on affordability now.

Michael Gatto, Co-Director of the Austin Community Design and Development Center (ACDDC), which manages the Alley Flat Initiative, a program to develop green affordable accessory dwellings, says, “ACDDC is pleased to support AURA’s proposal for a more comprehensive accessory dwelling ordinance, and is particularly excited to join in the call for a new financing program to extend the natural affordability of ADUs to benefit more low-income Austinites, both homeowners and renters alike.”

AURA’s report contains the personal stories of Austinites who stand to benefit from City Council actions or already benefit from existing ADUs, like David Longoria, a local musician who lives in an affordable garage apartment, Jesse Alvarado and his wife, who, after raising six children, built and moved into a backyard cottage on their East Cesar Chavez property and invited their daughter to raise her child in their front house. AURA Member Tommy Ates, who lives in an ADU in Hyde Park, says “I believe we need more homes that are affordable to the average household inside our central neighborhoods, not just along major traffic corridors.” His small central home makes it possible for him to live in town. “Rather than retreating from the neighborhood, we are in the heart of it,” Ates continues. “And I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

AURA Board Member Amy Hartman notes that “Both homeowners and renters can benefit from this common-sense approach to neighborhood density. Granny flats can help provide more tax revenue for the city while reducing the tax burden for individuals. With simpler granny flat rules, more low-income families could afford to stay in Austin.”

Statement on the McMansion Ordinance and the recent Planning and Development Review Memo

AURA, a grassroots group that believes in an Austin for Everyone, calls on the city council to rethink the McMansion ordinance.  As the memo from the Development and Services Department and the Planning and Zoning Department on May 1 clearly shows, the complexity of McMansion has added significantly to backlogs, and is in part responsible for the $1.6 million budget hike being proposed for the next calendar year in that department.

The McMansion Ordinance was theoretically designed to keep large houses from being built in central Austin and preserve neighborhood character.  Problems abound with its approach, however. It privileges large lots over small lots by restricting the amount of square footage of house versus yard.  It makes it very difficult to build duplexes. The geometric “envelope” that it prescribes forces many builders into odd workarounds and blocky construction.  It is unfriendly to families, because it makes it difficult or impossible to build larger 3 or 4 bedroom homes on the smaller lots that make up many Central Austin neighborhoods.  The McMansion Ordinance was a flawed attempt to legislate aesthetics, and its main impact has been to reduce the amount of housing being built in central Austin.

AURA calls on the City Council to reconsider the McMansion Ordinance, up to and including repealing it altogether.  In a housing shortage and affordability crisis, excess complexity and reductions in the amount of housing, especially for families, is unconscionable.

CAMPO 2040 Regional Transportation Plan Response

AURA recently submitted a letter to the Capital Area Metropolitan Regional Planning Organization’s (CAMPO) Transportation Policy Board, in response to CAMPO’s 2040 Regional Transportation Plan. In the letter, which you can read below, we call on CAMPO to prioritize moving people—mobility—over  moving vehicles. We also question the funding priority given to road construction, given the plan’s own recommendations. AURA member John Laycock helped write the article and attended the April 8 meeting of the Austin City Council’s Mobility Committee, where he read the letter during Citizen Communications. Video of John speaking is below. John blogs about urban planning at The Theseus Project.

Accessory Dwelling Units Policy Paper

AURA has released a policy paper on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), better known as garage apartments, granny flats, or back houses. Allowing more ADUs to be built is a crucial piece of AURA’s advocacy for abundant housing in Austin. Our paper argues for a substitute ordinance that would be stronger than the one currently proposed  by City staff. Thank you to Cory Brown of our CodeNow working group for his work on the paper.  Want to help?  Join AURA today!

Improving the Housing Market Analysis

AURA welcomes the recent release of Austin’s 2014 Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis. The report provides valuable context into the state of the Austin housing market and a stark reminder of the depth of problems Austinites face in finding housing available. We particularly agree with the report’s recommendations for rapid reduction in regulatory barriers toward homeowners building accessory dwelling units (ADUs), a change we have led the push for.

However, we are disappointed in both the depth of analysis offered and the scope of the recommendations. The recommendations would barely begin to address the housing crisis in Austin. We offer suggestions for the improvement of this report:

Analysis Of Supply and Demand

To be comprehensive, a housing market analysis needs a discussion of the link between housing supply, demand, and prices. As the report notes, the greatest loss of affordable housing did not come from a reduction in subsidized affordable housing programs, nor the physical destruction of existing affordable, private market housing stock. The greatest loss of affordable housing came from increasing prices for existing private market affordable housing. The report therefore, must address the reasons why prices have increased so much for previously-affordable housing units.

The use of an economic model of supply, demand, prices, and price elasticity could begin to address questions such as what effect the creation of greater supply would have on prices in the city.

Estimates of costs and benefits of each recommendation

Using such a model, the report should analyze the effect size of the costs and benefits of each recommendation. For example, while AURA supports the report’s recommendations on loosening regulations regarding ADUs, the total number of new ADUs that would be created as a result of the change is modest, and their creation will have a modest effect on prices. The report should be able to estimate the effect of the ideas that it advocates.

Additionally, there should be honest accounting for the potential negative effects on affordability that come with some of the recommendations. For example, raising cash-in-lieu fees charged to new development may, perversely, encourage developers to forego additional density. This would result in reduced affordability in two ways: reduced payment into the fee-in-lieu program, and reduced supply of housing in the private market. Estimates of both effects on household affordability should accompany any recommendation. In previous studies, many programs that attempted to achieve affordability through development fees have found that the latter effect dominated the former and affordability was actually worsened.

We must be willing to adopt policies commensurate with the size of the problem we face. To do so, we must predict how big the positive and negative effects of our recommendations will be.

Consider better funding models

In addition to considering how to obtain more funds for subsidized affordable housing programs, we believe that we should think about more programs that, through their nature, incentivize greater household affordability in the private market. For example, funds for affordable housing programs could come from allowing new, dense development by right and allocating tax increments over certain density levels to fund affordable housing programs. Thus, instead of effectively taxing (and thus discouraging) density, affordable housing programs would become allies of private market housing in seeking abundant, transit-oriented development.

Household Affordability, not Affordable Housing

Imagine Austin takes special care to use the more holistic concept of household affordability, not merely housing affordability. Housing which has low rent or mortgage costs, but necessitates high spending on utilities, transportation, or other non-avoidable expenses, does not result in household affordability. Individuals make choices between housing with high rents and low transportation costs. City policy has emphasized the household affordability metric to match our goals to the lived experience of our residents, and our report should do the same.


Austin’s trend toward expensive sprawl is neither desirable nor inevitable. It is the direct result of policy choices made by the city to limit the types and locations of affordable housing. For any subsidized housing solutions to be effective, we must cure the dysfunction in our private housing market–excessive regulations preventing the creation of abundant housing to meet the housing needs of our growing city. Otherwise, we will always have a population that cannot find housing that meets our needs for a reasonable price.

CodeNEXT Option 3 is the Affordability Option

At the November 6 Austin City Council meeting, the relationship of CodeNEXT to affordability was raised by Council Members Mike Martinez and Kathie Tovo. Council Member Martinez expressed interest in learning which of two CodeNEXT approaches, “Option 2” and “Option 3,” would make housing more affordable. AURA strongly believes that Option 3, which represents a more thorough revision to the code than does Option 2, is the approach that will yield the greatest household affordability for the city.

Affordable housing can refer to two different concepts. The first concept is the plain meaning of the words: low costs, rents, and taxes necessary to acquire housing, whether that housing is provided by the private market or through public programs. In its other meaning, Affordable Housing (capitalized here for distinction) refers to important government programs that directly assist some residents with housing costs. AURA believes CodeNEXT Option 3 is a superior choice for both senses of affordable housing.

Option 3 will provide more Austin residents with affordable housing than would Option 2, for many reasons:

  • Increasingly, as people in the greater Austin area have looked for affordable starter homes, they have found them not in Austin, but in surrounding suburbs. There are not enough homes in the central city to accommodate all who wish to live here and those who are left behind are those who have the least money. Option 3 will apply to more of the city, allowing more people to live in more parts of the city, and reducing the vicious competition for homes that has driven prices so high.
  • As land costs in central Austin have risen sharply, our outdated land development codes continue to restrict housing largely to two very expensive types: land-expensive single-family houses, and materials-expensive high-rises. CodeNEXT envisions updating our code to allow “missing middle” housing types between these two expensive poles, such as duplexes, townhomes, and small apartment buildings. These housing types may be both relatively inexpensive to build and relatively land-cheap on a per-resident basis. These “missing middle” homes have historically also been attractive options for families. Option 3, by allowing “missing middle” housing in more of the city, will allow more households to take advantage of this type of housing.
  • CodeNEXT is the implementation of Imagine Austin, Austin’s comprehensive plan. Imagine Austin expanded the concept of affordable housing to address “household affordability.” Household affordability addresses all costs a household faces in their housing choice; not just rent or mortgage, but also transportation and utilities. The Imagine Austin vision correctly understands that a compact, connected city leads to greater household affordability not just by lowering housing costs, but also by lowering transportation costs. CodeNEXT looks to actualize that vision through the creation of more transit-oriented development. Option 3, by creating more options for transit-oriented development in more of the city, will create lower transportation costs.

For these and many more reasons, Option 3 is the plan for household affordability. But Option 3 will also help Austin’s government advance Affordable Housing programs:

  • Affordable Housing providers have been successful recently by building innovative, cost-effective Affordable Housing projects using newly-permitted types of housing, such as the Foundation Communities’ Capital Studios, built using the zero-parking downtown model. By allowing more types of affordable options in more parts of the city, Option 3 gives Affordable Housing providers more opportunities for cost-effective Affordable Housing developments.
  • Our Affordable Housing system is overwhelmed. The recently-opened voucher program saw almost 20,000 applicants for only 2,500 slots on the waiting list. This is for a combination of reasons: ongoing problems with poverty in our city, as well as a lack of affordable homes provided by the private market. By allowing more types of private market affordable homes in more of the city, Option 3 will allow the Affordable Housing system to concentrate on those who need it most.

AURA is one of many civic groups that support the selection of Option 3. Other civic groups pushing for Option 3 include HousingWorks Austin, Downtown Austin Alliance, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Austin Apartment Association, Austin Board of Realtors, Real Estate Council of Austin, and Congress for the New Urbanism. This coalition of groups held a press conference at City Hall on October 22 in support of Option 3.

The affordability problems in our city are acute. We need to tackle them with as much urgency as we can. Affordability is a responsibility for the whole city. Option 3 is the only option that approaches the problem with the comprehensiveness and urgency needed.

Austin’s Voters Are Pro-Transit—And Against Bad Transit Plans

For Immediate Release

Austin’s Voters Are Pro-Transit—And Against Bad Transit Plans
AURA Vows to Keep Pushing for Expanded and Improved Transit Service for All Austinites

November 5, 2014
Austin, Texas

AURA was disappointed when Austin’s leaders decided to put a bad rail plan on the ballot, but we’re relieved that Austinites voted for better public transit by rejecting the $1 billion road-rail bond proposition. From the beginning of the Project Connect process, AURA pushed for data-driven transit planning, but when the city’s own data showed the rail plan would hurt our transit system, AURA was forced to oppose.

“AURA has spent months talking to Austinites about this plan, and it’s clear that this city is ready to invest in transit. It just needs to be a good plan,” said AURA member Marcus Denton. “That’s why AURA’s focus will now shift to pressuring Capital Metro and the City of Austin to improve transit service for the whole city.”

“Capital Metro should immediately move forward with the Riverside MetroRapid line they’ve had in their plans for years,” AURA co-founder Jace Deloney said. “This can be a quick, inexpensive way to improve transit service in an area that needs it, and can show our city the advantages of true bus rapid transit that isn’t stuck in traffic.”

AURA was founded to improve mobility for all Austinites, and that battle won’t be easy or short. Austin’s streets are full, so we have to move more people on transit if we want to waste less time getting around. If you agree with us, we need your help. Join our announcements mailing list, or if you’re ready to commit, become an AURA member to grow Austin’s voice for better transit.

AURA member Niran Babalola calls on all transit advocates to unite for a better transit future. “Mayor Leffingwell was right to put the city in the driver’s seat so our elected officials are in charge instead of Cap Metro, but it’s going to take the voice of every Austinite who cares about transit to make sure the next City Council finishes the job. It’s been tough to argue against other folks who are fighting for better transit for Austin, and I hope we all seize the opportunity to be on the same team again.”

We call on all current and future City Council members to join the list of Austin leaders who have taken AURA’s transit-oriented pledge at This city needs elected officials who are committed to improving transportation options for all Austinites at all income levels all over the city.

AURA is a grassroots urbanist organization focused on building an Austin for everyone by improving land use and transportation through policy analysis, public involvement, and political engagement.


  • Niran Babalola, Project Connect Central Corridor Committee member:, 775-576-4726
  • Brad Absalom, Project Connect Central Corridor Committee Chair:, 214-236-3293

Why does Austin face the choice between no rail (for now) and bad

There are several points of view on the City of Austin ballot proposition, but other than the property owners and construction companies who hope to benefit directly, it doesn’t feel like anybody is actually excited about this roads-and-rail bond plan. The anti-tax and anti-growth forces predictably don’t like it. And a large number of pro-transit Austinites, like the members of AURA, believe that when given the choice between no rail and badrail, voting against rail is the right choice to save our transit system. We are concerned this plan will have long-term negative repercussions that could reduce overall transit ridership and hurt the credibility of transit with the larger public, like the low-ridership Red Line has.

We don’t seem to hear genuine excitement about the plan from those proposition supporters who are pro-transit, either. We hear ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,’ as if this is an argument in favor of a bad plan. We hear ‘we have to start somewhere,’ as though we didn’t already flub one ‘start’ with the Red Line.

We also hear ‘we can’t afford to wait another 14 years.’ But why has it been 14 years since the closely contested 2000 rail bond election? Is 2014 really the first time it was possible to bring another rail bond up for a vote? Is rail on the ballot now because it takes that long to get a plan, or because the business community and the public haven’t been ready? No. We think the history shows that poor political leadership is to blame: leaders who dropped the ball and simply didn’t bother to develop, present, and sell a credible plan to improve mobility in Austin.

It is vital to realize that Austin is about to get different political leadership—and there is every reason to believe our next City Council will be strongly committed to good transit. We can reject the city proposition and feel comfortable that we are not ‘rejecting rail’—we are simply making the mature decision to reject bad rail, and simultaneously we are moving on from failed leadership. Voting NO on this city proposition, while electing a new Council, can be a win-win for transit in Austin.

Election Endorsements 2014

For Immediate Release

AURA Endorses Candidates in Austin Mayoral and City Council Elections

October 27, 2014
Austin, Texas

AURA is a relatively new organization on the Austin civic scene, but it is already having a strong impact representing popular support for our vision of a welcoming city with abundant housing and alternative transportation options. With Austin moving its municipal elections to November and instituting a geographically representative City Council, next Tuesday offers a major opportunity to elect leaders that can help continue to make that vision a reality.

The membership of AURA offers these endorsements in Austin’s City Council elections:

Delia Garza, for District 2
Jose Valera, for District 3
Gregorio Casar, for District 4
Jimmy Flannigan, for District 6
Jeb Boyt, for District 7
Chris Riley, for District 9

In the election for mayor, AURA’s membership offers its endorsement to Mike Martinez. It should be noted thatSheryl Cole also has substantial support among AURA members.

Please also note that the newly elected City Council will be taking office after the roads-and-rail city bond proposition is already decided—and, hopefully, rejected. AURA’s membership continues to urge Austinites to voteNO on this City of Austin ballot proposition.

AURA’s membership encourages Austin residents to learn more about these candidates. Please give them your support and your vote if you agree that they are the best candidates to lead Austin’s city government.

AURA is a grassroots urbanist organization focused on building an Austin for everyone by improving land use and transportation through policy analysis, public involvement, and political engagement.