Tell City Council You Support Equitable Transit-Oriented Development

On March 9, City Council will consider approving a plan to implement equitable transit-oriented development (ETOD) around current and planned transit stops in Austin. ETOD aims to give Austinites of all income levels more access to housing, jobs, transit, and other amenities, and a quality ETOD implementation is crucial to the success of public transit in Austin.

How you can help

We need to send the message to City Hall that Austinites strongly support ETOD and want to see ETOD done right. You can help by contacting City Council Members via email or phone, and you can speak at the City Council meeting on March 9 in-person or by calling in.

Contacting City Council

You can get a lot of impact by directly reaching out to your own City Council member (look up your Council District).

3José Velá
4José “Chito”
9Zohaib “Zo”

You can also send an email to all of City Council at once using this form.

Speaking at the Council Meeting

The City Council will meet on March 9th in Austin City Hall (301 W 2nd St, Austin, TX 78701) at 10:00 AM, which is when we’ll be making comments. Before discussing agenda items, Council will take comments from the public.

You can sign up to speak using this form:

  1. Select “March 9 – Regular Council Meeting”
  2. Respond “No” to “Are you a zoning applicant or zoning applicant’s representative?”
  3. Under “Regular Meeting Agenda Item Number” select “016”
  4. Stance: For
  5. Respond “Yes” to “Do you wish to speak?”
  6. Select “in-person” or “remote” (which is via phone call)
  7. Fill in your name and contact info
  8. Filling in the topic is optional, but you can mention that you are in favor of ETOD
  9. Submit form

Online registration closes at 12 PM the day before the meeting, and you can only register for remote speaking using online registration. In-person speakers can register at City Hall using the kiosks up until 9:15 AM on the day of the meeting.

Talking Points and Tips

  • Contacting or speaking to City Council doesn’t require you to be an expert or make polished comments, just share your thoughts, preferably in your own words
  • Mention that you support agenda item 16 to approve the ETOD plan
  • Austin voters overwhelmingly approved Project Connect, which included ETOD
  • The success of Project Connect, and transit in general, depends on good ETOD
  • We need to zone for significantly more density/height and more mixed-use development within walking and biking distance of transit
  • ETOD zones should have no minimum parking requirements
  • Hitting our climate and affordability goals depends on successful transit and ETOD

You can read the full Council meeting agenda and find more details about the ETOD policy plan resolution (item 16) here.

If you have any questions, feel free to email us at

Austin Local Elections Endorsements 2022

AURA membership voted on our 2022 endorsements for Austin mayoral candidates and City Council candidates, as well as ballot propositions for Austin, Austin ISD, and Austin Community College.

These endorsements represent the choices AURA members thought were most aligned with AURA’s vision for an Austin for Everyone, with abundant, affordable housing and transportation designed for people, not just cars.


Austin City Council

Endorsed candidates are listed first. In parentheses, we have runners-up candidates who will be automatically endorsed if there is a runoff election where the endorsed candidate did not make the runoff. See below for an explanation of the endorsement process.

Ballot Propositions

  • Austin Proposition A (affordable housing bond): Yes
  • Austin ISD Propositions A, B, & C (info here): Yes
  • ACC Proposition A (info here): Yes

Forums & Questionnaire

To give members and the public a chance to hear from candidates on housing and transportation issues, AURA hosted several forums and asked candidates to complete a questionnaire. Links to forum recordings:

Endorsement Process

Early Endorsements

Earlier this year, we had an early endorsement election for the two incumbent seats in Districts 1 and 8 that required a 3/4s majority of members to approve the incumbents for them to get our nomination.

Regular Endorsements

For the open City Council seats, we used a ranked voting system in which we asked members to rank any candidates that they would be happy to see endorsed by the organization, so being ranked on a ballot was also an approval vote.

The highest ranked candidate in each race is endorsed, but any candidate who got a 50% approval from our members is named a “preferred” candidate and will be automatically endorsed if our endorsed candidate is not in the final election runoff.

We did this because many races had multiple candidates with great platforms that we knew would be popular with our members and likely lead to close races, and that certainly held true. Many of the races were very close, with a handful of votes separating the endorsed from preferred candidates.

Austin City Council Elections 2020

AURA hosted several Candidate Forums August-September 2020 with many of the candidates running for election for Austin’s City Council in November 2020. We recorded each candidate forum and are posting those videos here, along with questionnaire responses that we received from candidates. For our final forum, we also hosted a panel, in collaboration with Farm&City and Friends of Austin Neighborhoods, on Proposition A & B that will also be on the ballot in November 2020.

All resources relating to the 2020 City Council Race and Propositions A & B will be in this blog post to help AURA members decide on their forthcoming endorsement vote.

Recorded Candidate Forums

Forum Transcripts

We will provide a transcript copy of each forum here as soon as they are finished being edited. Stay tuned.

Questionnaire Responses

Here are all of the questionnaire responses we have received so far in a PDF. We are still waiting on some answers from D6 Candidates and will update the PDF when we receive those. Stay tuned.

The High Price of a Small Lot

People say houses have gotten expensive in Austin. That’s wrong. The houses haven’t gotten expensive — the land has. And it’s mostly due to our laws.

Building a house is not expensive. While the cost of building a house went up 13% between 2014 and 2019, the average salary went up 15% over that same time period and the mortgage interest rate went down 19%. So, in 2019, building a house was actually more affordable than it was 5 years earlier.

But to build a house, you need land. I looked into the price of land in Austin. (I’m an economist. It’s what I do for fun.) I crunched numbers on the prices of empty lots that were sold in 2019 and 2014. From that data, I’ve calculated the expected price for any lot anywhere in Austin. Let me tell you what I found.

I found that the price of land is affected by the distance to downtown. It is no surprise that the price is highest in downtown and drops as you get farther away. To be precise, the price is cut in half for every 14 minutes you drive away from 6th and Congress. (That drive time is not during rush hour.) Austin could lower land prices by improving traffic, but it is expensive to build highways and subways. And I promised you that we could lower land prices by changing our laws.

The other big thing that affected the price of land was the size of the lot … and Austin has a law about the size of lots. Austin’s laws require a minimum size for a lot. So, to build any house, you need at least 5,750 square feet of land. That’s a little more than 1/8th of an acre.

I’m sure when I said “the size of the lot affects the price,” it was also no surprise.  Everyone knows that a bigger piece of land is going to be more expensive.  I mean, if a 1-acre lot is 8 times bigger than a minimum-sized lot, its price should be 8 times higher, right?  Land is land, isn’t it?

I need an example, so let’s look at a place a 20-minute drive (not in rush hour) from downtown.  So, a lot off Slaughter Lane or Parmer Lane, between MoPaC and I-35.  In 2019, 1-acre lots sold for $350,000 and minimum-sized lots sold for $185,000.  Let me state that another way: 1 acre as a single lot was worth $350,000 and 1-acre cut into minimum-sized lots was worth $1,400,000.  

Think about that.  In price-per-acre, minimum-sized lots are 4 times the price of 1-acre lots.  Land is land, right?  How can land cut into 8 pieces be worth 4 times more than the same amount of land as 1 single piece?  How can it be worth over a million dollars more?

The reason is our laws.  When people buy a lot, they’re buying the land and the legal right to build a house on it.  An acre of land with the right to build one house is $350,000.  An acre of land with the right to build 8 houses is $1,400,000.  It is that legal right to build 7 more houses that adds the extra $1,050,000.  If we divide $1,050,000 by 7, we get the price of the legal right to build a house 20 minutes from downtown: $150,000. 

The total cost for the minimum-sized lot was $185,000.  So, if the legal right to build a house was $150,000, that means the land only costs $35,000.  Our laws are so screwed up that they dominate the price of land.  

How can we change our laws to lower the price of “the right to build a house” and make housing affordable in Austin?

First, Austin should eliminate the minimum lot size.  A minimum lot size limits the amount of “right to build a house” per acre of land.  The minimum lot size also forces home buyers to buy more of expensive land than they may want, driving up their costs.  

Second, Austin should make it easier to divide a lot into smaller lots.  Our laws for subdividing require lots of time, paperwork and money.  Moreover, the law puts numerous requirements on lots that make it difficult to do at all.

Lastly, Austin should allow more houses (or housing units) on each lot.  Minneapolis just legalized “triplexes everywhere”, which tripled the amount of “right to build a housing unit”.  And, as any economist will tell you, increasing the supply of something will drive down its price.

You should think of the price of “the right to build a house” as the membership fee to join the country club of landowners in Austin.  And right now, the fee to join the country club that is 20 minutes from downtown is $150,000.  It is absurd that our city’s laws should support something like that.  Please write City Council and ask them to improve Austin’s land use laws.  They need to eliminate minimum lot sizes, make splitting lots easier, and increase the number of units allowed on each lot.  You should also join AURA and help us in this fight to make housing affordable for everyone.  

Michael Nahas, Master of Arts in Economics, UT-Austin

My full analysis of Austin’s land prices is available here

I Moved from Houston and My Rent Doubled

Last May, I moved from Houston to Austin for work. I lived in Houston’s Heights neighborhood, one that shares a lot of similarities with many of the neighborhoods in central Austin under intense discussion with the land development code rewrite. The Heights, as it’s called, is located close to downtown, has longstanding housing stock dating to the earliest part of the 20th century, and has enviable walkability, restaurant scene, and culture. 

I paid $1250 a month and lived in a duplex a block away from White Oak Boulevard, a street brimming with bakeries and restaurants. A couple of blocks in the other direction lies the Woodland Heights Historic District – a pocket of protected homes. Houston’s approach – the occasional historic district to preserve neighborhoods with rich histories and charm, set amidst streets that allow a diverse mix of housing options, enriches the city for everyone, providing a full range of choices. 

Houston’s zoning allows missing-middle housing to fit the lot – garage apartments discreetly tucked behind historic houses, freestanding 3-story units sharing a central driveway on deep lots, shoulder-to-shoulder townhomes on wide but shallow lots. I was quite surprised when arriving in Austin that these housing types weren’t around – you would think that, given the high land costs, they’d be a logical way to meet housing demand. In Houston, they’ve proven quite popular amongst young families who want affordable two- or three-bedroom homes without having to move to the suburbs. 

The missing-middle housing enriches the neighborhood – with more neighbors strolling the streets, more support for local businesses, thriving neighborhood associations, parks with children playing in them, and rich local traditions like White Linen Night or Lights in the Heights. 

It’s hard not to tie Houston’s liberal zoning laws to its enviable affordability. Despite being the fourth-largest city in America with a booming economy and a growing population, Houston has a lower share of minority renters moderately or severely burdened by rent than Austin. Though Houston certainly has issues with gentrification, the ability to subtly densify central neighborhoods has limited its velocity—middle-class or higher-income residents can find an option that meets their needs without having to push into low-income neighborhoods (look no further than east Austin’s $700k tear-downs). 

Austin has so much going for it – a thriving economy, a beautiful setting, a bright culture. Houston’s lesson is that legalizing more housing can be better for everyone – for historic neighborhoods with character, for new arrivals, and for longtime residents holding out hope for affordability. 

Homes not Handcuffs

AURA continues to call for the decriminalization of homelessness and supports the efforts of the Homes not Handcuffs coalition. In light of the newly released 2019 Point in Time count, it’s more important than ever that Austin provide housing for people experiencing homelessness – not a date with a judge. Eric Goff, an AURA board member, says “The people’s strong endorsement of a historic $250 million housing bond speaks to the community’s strong desire to aid people experiencing homelessness, not put them in handcuffs for merely resting on a sidewalk or in a public place.”

AURA Board Elections

AURA will be holding board elections at the end of February to fill five of our eleven board seats. Board members are elected by a membership vote, and any member of AURA may run for the board. To be considered for a board seat, please fill out this form by February 20, 2019.  Voting will take place from Feb 21-Feb 28, 2019. If you have any questions about what serving as a board member entails please feel free to email the current board at

What is Mobility Justice?

“How can cities, including Austin, use mobility justice to guide future investment in transportation systems? What is Austin doing right now to offer more affordable mobility options for vulnerable populations and communities?”  These important questions were discussed at an Imagine Austin Speaker Series on Mobility Justice on Saturday, January 12th at the Asian American Resource Center Ballroom.  Dr. Adonia E. Lugo presented “Mobility Justice: People Power and the Future of Transportation” and shared her work on “mobility justice, the practice of accounting for the diverse vulnerabilities that individuals carry with them as they travel through shared public spaces.”  

Dr. Adonia E. Lugo PhD. (Affiliate Faculty in Urban Sustainability, Antioch University Los Angeles) is an urban anthropologist, bicyclist, activist, and college professor living in Los Angeles. She’s spent the last decade researching racial inclusion in active transportation. Her book, Bicycle/Race: Transportation, Culture, & Resistance, was published in 2018. Dr. Lugo serves as an advisory board co-chair for Los Angeles-based community-based organization People for Mobility Justice and is a core organizer of The Untokening, a national collective.

AURA had the opportunity to ask Dr. Lugo a few questions on Principles of Mobility Justice and how it pertains to Austin.

1.  How would you briefly describe Principles of Mobility Justice in a nutshell for folks who are not familiar with this practice?

The Untokening 1.0 Principles of Mobility Justice was a collective effort to distill some shared values around the concept. In a nutshell, “mobility justice” refers to the efforts to shed light on the vulnerabilities that different individuals face as they travel. Keeping our communities safe takes more than good design; we also have to grapple with racial discrimination in policing, the persecution of immigrants, sexual harassment, and many other ways that folks might experience un-safety in our streets and public spaces.

2.  What inspired you to incorporate Principles of Mobility Justice into your practice?

I had been active in defining equity in the bike movement since 2013, and within a few years it was clear that we needed to go further; looking at one mode of transportation wasn’t sufficient to address the root causes of street un-safety. I also felt constrained by bike advocacy’s emphasis on using public funding for infrastructure projects, when that kind of funding doesn’t necessarily lead to benefits for folks in disadvantaged communities. With the broader focus on mobility justice, the groups I’m part of now are working to innovate alternative ways of investing in local community safety.

3.  Austin passed a Mobility Bond in 2014 and has several transportation efforts on the ground, such as our newly released, city-wide Austin Strategic Mobility Plan (ASMP) and CapMetro’s Project Connect – a regional high-capacity transit plan, including light rail and buses in various corridors around Austin. How do you think Austin could benefit from implementing principles of Mobility Justice as we move forward with our transportation plans?

In the transportation sector, there tends to be a big emphasis on spending public dollars on brick and mortar projects and rolling stock. The mobility justice approach puts the focus on people: what are their customer service needs, what jobs can they access, what cultures are cultivated in transit spaces? In order to keep our cities equitable and diverse, we need to put people and community at the heart of the work.

4.  What are some of the challenges practitioners may face while implementing Principles of Mobility Justice?

It can be pretty difficult to get transportation folks on board with the idea that “street safety” includes other kinds of vulnerability besides avoiding vehicular violence. In LA, we’ve been developing partnerships with groups that work on other aspects of community safety in order to create an authentic intersectional approach.

5.  What top recommendations do you have for Austin for holding space for mobility justice in the face of new pressures in the transportation industry?

– Consider that “shared use” will only be equitable if it’s a step toward shared ownership. What is the city doing to support worker-owned cooperatives that serve mobility needs?

– Undertake historical research to highlight the parallel tracks of transportation development as a market-driven project versus mobility systems funded by public dollars as a public good. I think we have a long way to go before we can see that the idea of transportation spending going toward disadvantaged community needs is relatively new, given how long we’ve been building those systems in this country. Transportation is big business, which means it’s not going to shift toward social justice overnight.


Interested in learning more?  Check out Dr. Adonia Lugo talk about Mobility Justice: People, Power & the Future of Urban Transportation at the Imagine Austin Speaker Series.  Feel free to contribute to the discussion with comments below.


Austin Strategic Mobility Plan Response

AURA sent the letter below to the Austin Transportation Department and members of Austin City Council on January 13, 2019. 

AURA, a grassroots organization that believes in an Austin for Everyone, began its existence as a transit advocacy organization. Since then, we have released multiple reports and engaged in continual advocacy around transportation and transit issues. The Austin Strategic Mobility Plan (ASMP) will be a key document in shaping the future of Austin. As it stands, our current mobility policies have largely led to unaffordable, disconnected, unhealthy, unsafe, and environmentally destructive sprawl.  With the ASMP, especially in combination with land use reforms, we can begin charting a new course—one that includes environmental justice and greenhouse gas reductions, economic vitality, effective transit, and safer, more walkable communities everywhere.

The draft ASMP needs significant work to get to that point. There are nods to many good, if vague, policies throughout the written document, but it nowhere lays out the overarching vision and clear policy priorities that we need to get to a brighter future.  There are tradeoffs in many of the decisions that must be made about mobility: “prioritizing multimodal solutions” and a “culture of safety” are not necessarily compatible with “increasing highway person-carrying capacity,” since highways are the locus of a large percentage of our automotive-related deaths and serious injuries.  

Policies that do not aim to set clear, measurable goals, with baselines and projected improvements, are incredibly hard to evaluate. Without that guidance, and a clear hierarchy of priorities, and when there are too many general policy pronouncements, virtually any decision can point to whichever policy best justifies it. These policies will guide technical documents including new Street Design Guide and the Transportation Criteria Manual. These are critical documents that will determine street safety, development patterns, and Austin’s environmental footprint, potentially for decades. But these manuals get very little concrete direction from the policies enumerated. By contrast the Strategic Housing Blueprint identified clear goals for the production of different types of housing, and the Watershed Master Plan shows specifics of the types of watershed projects that need to occur and where. The ASMP needs to follow a similar track and provide much more clarity.

To deliver the kind of city that is mandated in Imagine Austin and countless resolutions since, the goals of the ASMP should include:

  • Clear mandates on reducing Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) and greenhouse gases
  • Policies that prioritize safety, including clear targets of when and how Austin will accomplish its VisionZero goals.  
  • Prioritizing transit, cycling, and other low-environmental impact mobility solutions over single occupancy vehicles, including targets on improving modeshare for those alternatives.  
  • Efficiently managing parking in line with current best practices.
  • Remove all ‘crash gates’. The city must reject a handful of vocal residents to disconnect a neighborhood.
  • Initiate a Streets Master plan to identify and reconnect the traditional streets grid in addition to mapping street grids for future subdivisions.
  • Disallow subdivision approval without full connectivity.
  • The city should plan major protected bike/scooter highways that connect Downtown/UT to other parts of the city.
  • Moratorium on new traffic signals, explore small scale roundabouts instead.
  • Specific direction to reduce/eliminate parking minimums, and ideally enact parking maximums
  • Identify more east-west streets for 4->3 road diets and protected bike lanes.
  • Remove road widenings in the Barton Springs Zone. In particular, the Oak Hill parkway must be carefully planned to minimize environment impacts in this sensitive area.

With clear, ambitious, but achievable goals, the ASMP can help us on the path to a much brighter future for Austin, but that vision is currently lacking in the draft.  We hope that future drafts will begin to address these issues.


  • Brennan Griffin,