After Long Day of Testimony, Council Votes to End Single-Family Zoning

New rules will allow three homes on every lot

City Hall was packed with speakers Dec. 7 before Council voted to approve the HOME initiative (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct a mistake referencing changes to Austin’s Property Maintenance Code. It was the Land Development Code that was changed. We regret the error.

After half a day of impassioned public testimony, City Council voted 9-2 to enact changes to the rules governing residential development in Austin that represent the most substantial change Council has made to housing policy in years.

Now, property owners will be able to build up to three homes on lots that previously only allowed one or two homes – effectively ending single-family zoning in Austin. Property owners will also be able to install tiny homes on their property and owners of older homes will be able to utilize new bonuses designed to incentivize the preservation of existing homes that meet certain criteria.

But the vote did not represent a victory only for property owners. By approving the Home Options for Middle-Income Empowerment (HOME), Council also eliminated rules in Austin’s Land Development Code that limit the number of unrelated adults that can live together. Across town, people are already choosing to live in such arrangements – in group homes, cooperatives, and other communal settings – as a way to build community or simply afford the cost of housing in one of the nation’s fastest growing cities. Many of them are renters. Now they can live in these settings free-and-clear of any potential code violation.

Though the Land Development Code changes will permit more development on single-family lots without a costly and time-consuming rezoning process, there are some constraints. The rule changes will not apply to homes located within Neighborhood Conservation Combining Districts, which overlay exclusive development rules for properties located within zoning districts. Property owners will also be limited by private deed restrictions and homeowners associations that limit the number of homes built on a single lot.

There are NCCDs in Central and East Austin, but the majority of deed restrictions preempting city land use regulations exist in West Austin – the part of town represented by Council Members Mackenzie Kelly and Alison Alter, who voted against the changes.

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