Planning Commission wants housing for older adults on city land near transit lines

By CHAD SWIATECKI | Tuesday, June 18th 2024

The Planning Commission wants City Council to prioritize creating senior and disabled-accessible housing units on city-owned land located near transit corridors, with a priority given to equitable transit-oriented developments, or ETODs, throughout the area.

At a meeting last week, the commission voted in favor of a resolution that is related to policy involving ETODs and city property. The resolution notes the anticipated shortfall of housing suitable and affordable for older adults in the coming decades and it points out that in the Austin-Round Rock area, 38 percent of people 65 and older are housing cost burdened – defined as paying more than one-third of their income on housing – and 85 percent of older adults cannot afford assisted living.

It also specified limited-equity cooperative projects as the preferred organizational structure for such housing in ETODs, with residents purchasing a share of the entire development rather than individual dwellings. The rationale for that structure is it would be more flexible to allow for roommates or caregivers to live on-site without excessive oversight.

Discussion during the meeting included a debate over whether the resolution should remain broad to prioritize senior housing on any city-owned property, though an amendment to change the language to that effect was defeated.

Commissioner Alice Woods, who co-authored the resolution, told the Austin Monitor that the availability of transit options in ETODs would have the largest impact on older adults’ quality of life.

“ETODs should definitely be the priority, and that’s just because so many seniors are limited in their mobility and often don’t have cars, and really it’s important that they be near high-frequency transit. This model doesn’t make a lot of sense further from transit stations,” she said. “I’m not sure exactly how much city-owned land is in ETODs, but as we continue to flesh out our plans for the light-rail system, this seems like something that should go hand-in-hand with that planning.”

Commissioner Jennifer Mushtaler said the use of the term “co-op” related to senior housing could create the idea that group homes could be a preferred form of housing for city land. With certain portions of the HOME and HOME 2 housing changes creating concern that group homes could be harder to regulate, she said the resolution should explicitly call for proper oversight of co-op or group living environments.

“I’m very concerned about the vulnerability of senior population in cooperative housing situations. While there’s a lot of positive and upside that I support and I would like to see happen, I also want to make sure the protections are in place,” she said. “I want to make sure that those safeguards … get back in on any recommendation or resolution that we might send to Council.”

An amendment to include language reflecting Mushtaler’s concerns was defeated based on the thinking that the city’s existing regulations covering group homes would automatically cover any kind of co-op that might include group living options.

Commissioner Patrick Howard said a more specific resolution for older adults and people with disabilities was likely to be most effective in addressing the need for affordable housing and services for those populations.

“As someone who works in affordable housing, typically what happens is we do have senior housing and it typically includes persons with disabilities, but understand the population in terms of what people feel comfortable with seniors,” he said. “Typically, even with federal funding, it’ll be with seniors 55 and over and persons with disabilities versus talking about a family unit that may have school-aged children. … Because of that it would be more appropriate to sort of narrow the scope as opposed to trying to be so inclusive.”

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