Economic Opportunity & Affordability
Economic Opportunity and Affordability Outcome: Having economic opportunities and resources that enable us to thrive in our community
Economic Opportunity and Affordability strategies focus on reducing economic disparities by understanding and addressing root causes, leveraging public-private partnerships, and supporting children and adults toward long-term success. These strategies also foster economic resiliency by strengthening the small business sector, aligning worker skills and employer needs, and developing an inclusive workforce. Several strategies address the need for better data and systems to ensure our efforts are cost effective and impactful to the people we serve.
In addition to Homelessness, within the Economic Opportunity and Affordability Outcome, the City Council selected “Housing,” and “Skills and capability of our community workforce (including education)” as their indicator category priorities.
Skills and Capability
Based on Council’s direction in 2019, a multi-department team focused on the Land Development Code (LDC) Revision continued making progress through the first few months of 2020. Although a second reading of the draft Code ordinance was approved in February, the work has mostly been paused since March pending the final outcome of a court decision. Project staff have chronicled policy direction given by City Council during second reading deliberations. Additionally, the LDC Revision multi-department team is actively exploring opportunities for process improvements that help to further Council direction on the LDC Revision, including changes to development review and area-level planning procedures.
This year presented new challenges for affordability in the City of Austin as the COVID-19 pandemic strained our national, regional, and local economies. However, several departments found innovative solutions to increase reduce economic disparities and increase economic resiliency.
The Austin Convention Center (ACC) served as an emergency shelter, Alternative Care Facility, and the EAT initiatives operations site. The ACC team also worked tirelessly to rebook big events and keep the Convention Center running for future engagements.
Austin’s Housing and Planning Department continued efforts to increase the number of newly constructed affordable housing units, and in close partnership with Real Estate Services, identified and acquired hotel properties for future conversion into permanent supportive housing units.
Development Services further modernized their services by offering virtual building inspections and a comprehensive digital development plan submission process.
The Economic Development Department trained hundreds of Austinites to be better prepared for the existing and future job market, provided classes and coaches which helped thousands of others to continue working. They also assisted small businesses who in turn created more jobs.
Small and Minority Business Resources also evolved as a result of the pandemic and launched online programs. The department also launched a disparity study and continue educating the public about future business opportunities.
Browse each department's accomplishments:
- Supported pandemic relief efforts by logging 18,850 hours of assistance and donated 10,522 pounds of food to shelters and food banks.
- Utilized the Convention Center and Palmer Events Center as an Alternate Care Facility with medical beds and power; hurricane evacuee and medical shelters; and a staging site for the EAT initiative and Dell Face Shield project which constructed over 32,000 face shields for the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) personal protective equipment (PPE) stock for the region. Over a six month period, Catering served 32,917 meals, including 7,405 meals for the EOC, 936 meals for the Alternate Care Facility, and 900 meals for hurricane evacuees.
- Purchased, implemented industry-leading equipment and standards for COVID-19 readiness. Prepared for GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation to respond and recover from outbreaks and pandemics. Provided sanitizer, signage and updated health procedures including the purchase of hospital grade quaternary, one-step germicide, fungicide, virucide, Sentry 4 UV standalone disinfection machines, and handheld electrostatic sprayers.
- Continued to actively book space with sales teams at Austin Convention Center. Rebooked 27 events to future dates with $1.5 million in rental, and 26 new definite groups for $2.9 million in rentals. Palmer Events Center Sales Team retained $1 million in rental revenue working with clients seeking to cancel due to COVID-19.
- Completed the design and broke ground on construction for the off-site Marshalling Yard and Warehouse. Completed construction of new office space and LED lighting upgrades at the Convention Center parking garages. We also continue to make progress toward expansion.
- The Austin Convention Center Catering team was awarded the Spirit of Hospitality Award, by Levy Restaurant, for its exceptional customer and quality of service
- The Austin Convention Center was named a Top 20 Texas-based operation that demonstrates a commitment to environmental practices by Texan by Nature (TxN 20), a nonprofit conservation group founded by former first lady Laura Bush
- Palmer Events Center was awarded LEED Gold Certification developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
- Launched Virtual Building Inspections with live video and put procedures in place that empower inspectors and Austin residents to complete required building inspections remotely so they can keep construction projects on track.
- Transformed long standing paper-intensive development services to a comprehensive digital submission process, in turn making remote customer service possible and allowing responsible development to continue during the pandemic.
- Went cashless by transforming an on-site payment process to include expanded online payment options and complemented this improvement with a new kiosk, which will support cashier-free cash payments when in-person services resume.
- Achieved a new level of customer service, raising reported satisfaction levels in 128 of 140 (91%) survey metrics assessing staff competence, process fairness, ease of use, and other key areas.
- Preserved more than 300,000 inches of valuable native tree canopy, protecting Austin’s $16 billion urban forest infrastructure, through City Arborist tree reviews and replanting requirements for residential and commercial development.
- Generated $28.1 million for the City of Austin General Fund through Redevelopment Division projects and Chapter 380 incentive agreements. Supported 28,801 jobs through classes and coaching to small businesses, art commissions, competitive arts funding, and newly constructed commercial space
- Awarded business expansion incentives to three small, local businesses who committed to creating 56 new jobs (28 do not require a college degree) and retaining 43 employees.
- Successfully trained 982 Austinites (37% of enrollees) through workforce development trainings.
- Invested $10 million in preserving 17 heritage sites; 14 of which are also creative spaces; impacting only 36% of Austin’s creative sector professionals report having access to affordable creative space.
Housing and Planning
Neighborhood Housing and Community Development
- FY2020 Approved Budget: $42.7 million
- Full-time Employees: 70
Planning and Zoning
- FY2020 Approved Budget: $9.7 million
- Full-time Employees: 56
*As of October 2020, Neighborhood Housing and Community Development and Planning and Zoning have merged under one department as Housing and Planning.
- Awarded $31 million to affordable housing developers to build 1,496 affordable units and adopted new fair housing standards requiring new developments to use Texas Criminal Background Screening Guide for Rental Housing Providers, published by Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable.
- Purchased Rodeway Inn and Country Inn as hotel conversion projects. Partnered with APH and Austin's Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) to provide health/social services on site.
- Launched Affordable Housing Online Search Tool (AHOST) which helps Austin renters view income restricted affordable housing rental properties.
- Developed planning activities to create a new vision for the Palm District that integrate urban planning priorities, historic preservation, cultural resources, and surrounding plans.
- Continued analyzing and revising the Land Development Code to allow the City to better address strategic priorities of affordability, fair housing, and mobility.
- Secured lease agreements for six hotels to be used for quarantine purposes or temporary shelter for Austin residents unable to safely self-isolate during COVID-19 pandemic.
- Purchased two hotels in Council Districts 3 and 4, currently used as protective lodges, but intended for use as transitional and permanent supportive housing for Austin’s individuals experiencing homelessness.
- Negotiated the lease for a new 96,000-square-foot Municipal Court facility which includes five new courtrooms, a customer service lobby, modern offices and meeting rooms and secured parking.
- Purchased 484 acres of conservation land located in the Barton Springs Recharge Zone, and procured 23 acres of parkland to expand greenbelts, hiking trails, and other recreation amenities.
- Acquired 16 acres of property located in major city corridors and close to public transportation and services on behalf of Austin Housing Finance Corporation for the construction of affordable housing.
- Launched Online Certification Application Portal with improved access to certifications such as:
- Minority-Owned Business Enterprise (MBE)
- Women-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE)
- Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE)
- Airport Concession Business Enterprise (ACDBE)
- Small Business Enterprise Certification (SBE)
- Launched a new Disparity Study to evaluate our Minority-Owned, Women-Owned and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises and identify disparities in City of Austin contracting processes to ensure contractors have equal access to contracting opportunities.
- Provided growth opportunities to increase Minority- and Women-Owned Business participation on 2016 Mobility and Corridor Program projects by hosting virtual Prime and Subcontractor networking events. As a result, we have conducted two group stakeholder sessions, three group advisory committee sessions, and 13 business owner sessions with 180 individual participants.
- Educated business owners on upcoming opportunities from the 2040 Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Master Plan and encouraged disadvantaged, minority- and women-owned businesses to network with contractors and consultants.