As Austin housing prices and traffic congestion continue to rise, students are finding life less affordable — a problem a panel of city officials and community leaders discussed candidly with students on campus Tuesday.
“Obviously we are a very rapidly growing city and we have ever-growing congestion, and really there’s not that much we can do to make congestion go away,” city councilman Chris Riley said. “As long as we’re an active and thriving city we’re going to be dealing with congestion. But we can do a lot more to provide good options.”
Austin Police Department officer Tim Harvey said another problem with the rapid growth of Austin is that people, particularly students living in West Campus, leave themselves open to opportunistic crimes, such as car and bike thefts, by overestimating the safety of their environment. According to Harvey, students must be more cautious, especially when intoxicated.
“Austin has tried to hold onto this small town feel for a long time, and it’s no longer a small town,” Harvey said. “It’s one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the country. With that, we’ve felt a lot of prosperity, but there are a few bad issues that go along with it. When population grows, the good grows with the bad.”
Jonathan Tomko, senior research analyst for the city’s Planning, Policy and Outreach division, said because Austin’s growth causes housing prices to rise, his office is looking at ways to inform policy in order to increase the housing supply.
Tomko’s office works on developer incentives and policies to provide cheaper housing options, such as the Downtown Density Bonus Program, which provides incentives to developers constructing affordable housing. His office also oversees the University Neighborhood Overlay, a plan to increase housing options within walking distance of UT.
“We’re seeing a lot of increase in rents, and a need for affordable housing across the spectrum,” Tomko said. “The city has a spectrum to look at housing in different categories, all the way from those in precarious housing or are homeless to those that are trying to be first-time home buyers. So there are different types of housing and there’s different types of opportunities and we’re seeing gaps in pretty much every category within the spectrum.”
Willie Cecil, CapMetro community involvement specialist, said students should contact city officials involved in issues they think are relevant to the community, whether it is transportation, housing or something else, in order to voice their concerns and become more informed.
“You’ll learn something about it and you’ll also be able to help shape it,” Cecil said. “Especially with something as important as transportation, y’all could help affect what lines go where. Y’all just need to show up and tell people where you need to go and where they’re needed.”