Accelerator targets city’s ‘screaming crisis’ of housing affordability

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A new program from the Impact Hub Austin social improvement accelerator has set its sights on solving the growing affordability crisis facing Austin’s middle- and lower-income communities.

The Affordable Housing Accelerator held its kickoff event last week and brought together local politicos, established private industry leaders and hopeful startup founders looking to devise solutions for the growing cost of housing in the Austin area. Impact Hub’s data shows from 2010 to 2016 the median price of a one-family home in Austin has increased 45.2 percent while the median family income has only grown 5.4 percent.

The affordability accelerator is a three-month program created to encourage groups to learn about and begin creating solutions for home price increases based on three tracks: policy and advocacy, financial modeling and efficiency tools. Applications are being accepted now and selected teams will receive space to work at Impact Hub Austin as well as coaching, training and opportunities to network with experts in the problem area they choose to address.

Speaking at the event last week, Mayor Steve Adler echoed sentiments he’s expressed in public frequently about how rising housing prices and the area’s mobility issues have combined to make it harder for the city’s vaunted artists and creatives to afford to live and work in Austin.

Ashley Phillips, managing director of Impact Hub Austin, said she hopes the program can figure out ways to buy down the cost of land, make local planning and zoning more efficient, and implement new policies to prevent the city from repeating past planning and zoning mistakes that have created what she called a “screaming crisis.”

Phillips said she hopes the big difference-maker in the accelerator program will be the partnerships that develop from combining young innovators with business and governmental professionals who will help them learn about the intricacies of the problem area they’re looking to tackle.

Partners in the accelerator program are Google, JPMorgan Chase, Noble Capital, BuildFax and the Austin Board of Realtors.

“The power here is in the networking and coaching that will help them focus in on a problem and hopefully find a solution,” she said. “Lots of the partners in this are lenders and developers who are interested in getting involved in partnerships, and I hope we get people thinking long and hard about what this means for the people who don’t have the access to different resources to combat this issue.”

Phillips said real estate professionals like David Steinwedell, who is leaving the Urban Land Institute Austin to start a private equity fund aimed at preserving middle-income housing, are the ideal kinds of partners for the accelerator and show that there is significant private sector interest in the affordability issue.

Brad Compere, founder and CEO of Capstone Title, said he attended the accelerator kickoff so he could get involved in projects that could reduce the regulatory and permitting wait times that real estate experts say prevent developers from adding more housing stock in Austin. Compere estimates Austin will need to double its available housing supply in the next five years to begin to make a noticeable downward difference in average home prices.

“It’s a simple supply and demand problem and the issue is the regulatory environment at the city makes it difficult to create supply, so without overhauling the total regulatory process I don’t know that we’ll see an effective solution,” he said. “I wanted to participate in this because as a real estate attorney and owner of a title insurance company who works with affordable housing groups, I’m excited to see what I can contribute. Hopefully you can put some of these smart, entrepreneurial groups together and they can come up with a solution and offer it to the city.”


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