Like Aspen or like Austin?

08 17 15 Austin TX signWhen I worked at another non-profit focused on housing affordability in our area, we had a very savvy board member who was able to attract funders and new board members to our cause with his argument, “Do you want Charlottesville to be like Aspen or like Austin?”

The rest of his story was that in Aspen, Colorado, there is no affordable housing, and all those people who make the restaurants hum and the ski lifts lift and the clothing sales ring, the working folks of Aspen, are forced to live far outside of town.

In contrast, Austin TX, home to the University of Texas, has planned for greater affordability and is able to house more of its working folks. The city won the 2014 Robert C. Larson Housing Policy Leadership Award in recognition of initiatives that provide ongoing and sustainable support for affordable and workforce housing.

In an interview with Betsy Spencer, director of the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office, she notes that though Austin enjoys strong economic growth, it still faces a shortage of almost 40,000 affordable homes. This parallels the big squeeze that hits the working folks in Charlottesville, as students, wealthy retirees and highly compensated individuals drive up housing costs in the rental and purchase market.

A bright spot in this story:  one of the people who helped shape the award-winning work in Austin–Barbara Brown Wilson–is now a Charlottesville resident, and Assistant Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning at the UVA School of Architecture. She’s also the newest member of the Board of Piedmont Housing Alliance, and will be keynoting our Fall Fundraising Breakfast on September 21.

We are mighty glad to have her.–KTK