Cooperative Housing

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Cooperative Housing is democratically owned and managed by its tenants, creating affordable housing because all profits go to the tenants. It is a model that is being used in cities like New York, Madison, Boulder, Berkeley and here in Austin to provide sustainable and deeply affordable housing. For example, In NYC Habitat for Humanity is working with Mayor De Blasio to create a co-op apartment building that will be affordable to families making 50%-80% MFI. Locally, co-ops have provided affordable housing for students for 50 years and can currently offer housing at about half the market rate in West Campus. Many of those students have gone on to form and reside in co-ops beyond college.

In CodeNEXT, coops are defined (Chapter 23-2 2M-2, page 5.) in a way which no existing co-op in Austin would qualify. The following definition for the cooperative use is a more appropriate one: “A housing arrangement in which residents share expenses and ownership, and in which all profits or surpluses are allocated to purposes that benefit current or future residents.”

This definition is sourced from a combination of the Texas Business Organization Code and Boulder, Colorado’s definition of a housing cooperative as written in that city’s land development code. Rather than focusing on arbitrary characteristics such as unit numbers and ownership allocation that comprise the current draft, our proposed definition emphasizes what makes a cooperative a cooperative by focusing on its management, profit, and savings distribution model.

If we are serious about using all the tools at our disposal to combat rising housing costs and concentrated development that feeds gentrification, cooperatives should be allowed the same development opportunities throughout T3 zoning as cottage courts, duplexes, and other missing middle subtypes. Currently cooperative housing is available only in parts of T4 and above--and the application of the T4 category is unfortunately severely limited in this current draft.

Although it is positive to see cooperative housing as an allowed use in the non-transect zones, there are ways that permitting could be more accessible. Cooperative housing should be a by-right use in the LMDR, MDR, and SF-3 through SF-6 zoning areas. The current requirement of obtaining a conditional use permit puts the application of affordable housing in the hands neighborhood planning contact teams. Instead, it is a City-wide issue that can ensure the creation of abundant new options. Cooperative housing should be given a path to development through a Minor Use Permit in Very Low Density Residential, Low Density Residential, SF-1, and SF-2 zoning and a Conditional Use Permit in Rural Residential.

We look forward to the release of details about the Density Bonus Program. Cooperatives should be explicitly included as recipients of increased density in the areas where it is to be applied, in return for providing the requisite amount of affordability.