Austin’s Emerging Bipartisan Coalition for Walkable Housing

Kathleen Hunker from the conservative think thank Texas Public Policy Foundation supported the "granny flats" legislation, as did some of the most liberal members of Austin's City Council. Photo via Austin on Your Feet
“Granny flats” legislation sponsored by liberal Council Member Greg Casar was also endorsed by Kathleen Hunker (above) from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. Photo via Austin on Your Feet

Last week, the Austin City Council voted to allow “granny flats” — small accessory dwellings — in some areas zoned for single-family housing, and to reduce parking requirements along transit corridors. These types of reforms make housing more affordable and make neighborhoods more walkable and transit-friendly.

Dan Keshet at Austin on Your Feet said the vote highlights new political dynamics in the city. For one, it didn’t break down along party lines:

The granny flat resolution was introduced by Greg Casar, whose main claim to fame before City Council was as a labor rights activist. It was supported by the Republicans on City Council: Zimmerman and Troxclair, as well as Sheri Gallo (who has previously run as a Republican) [edit: I previously listed CM Gallo as a Republican, but now I’m not so sure] and three other Democrats: Adler, Rentería, and Garza. The four democrats who supported are definitely not “conservative” democrats in any meaningful sense. To understand land use politics, it’s best to set aside party labels.

This granny flat resolution was backed by urbanist organization AURA. It was originally introduced by urbanist Council Member Chris Riley. And it was seen past the finish line by CM Greg Casar.

But CM Casar didn’t come to the Council on a land use campaign with platform planks about zoning or parking restrictions; he was elected to Council on a platform of social justice and equity. Increasingly, though, he and other Council Members have seen many urbanist policies as boons for social justice.

The decision comes on the heels of a report finding the city’s black population is shrinking fast, with rising rents named as one culprit. The grassroots urbanist group AURA, which campaigned for the changes, told the Austin Monitor the new rules promise to make the city “more integrated and diverse.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: South Jerseyist lets Wall Street financiers and Port Authority reps explain why frequent drivers over the Ben Franklin Bridge should get a discount but not users of the PATCO high-speed line from South Jersey into central Philadelphia. Green City Blue Lake outlines a new report finding Akron and Cleveland have fallen behind in providing access to jobs via transit. And Broken Sidewalk says the McMansion is making a comeback in Kentucky.

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