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Workforce housing debate reignites in Buda

Conflict hit the Buda City Council dais June 6 when council members debated the mission behind the reintroduced housing plan study, which centered on the controversial topic of affordable housing.

Buda Assistant City Manager Chance Sparks reintroduced the item due to an interest to “look for potential next steps.”

Sparks said the initial housing plan study was suspended in September 2016 due to complications with the consulting firm the city was working with. But Sparks said members of the Housing Committee were “very energetic” and wanted to tackle the housing issue.

Sparks said in addition to the housing committee, the city has assets, such as the raw data from the work of the previous consulting firm, as well as raw data from the city of Austin’s housing study, that will make the process go a little smoother.

Originally, the Housing plan study was launched on the City’s website in 2016, which asked residents what types of housing were currently available in Buda and what types of housing they want to see.

However, council members zeroed in on “affordable housing” as the nucleus of the study and were divided on the need for more affordable housing solutions in Buda.

Council member George Haehn questioned the need for a housing study that Buda residents didn’t really want, citing the reactions from the Green Meadows neighborhood residents regarding possible multi-family housing behind the subdivision.

“Affordable is perceptual,” Haehn said. “I think we do a disservice to the people who have invested their life savings in order to live here.”

Councilmember Eileen Altmiller added people who currently live in Buda “could probably not afford to move here now” due to expense.

Buda Mayor Todd Ruge called the housing plan study “a strategy” on the city’s behalf that will be able to guide developers to more desired housing in the future. Ultimately it’s up to the builders what types of housing they build.

“It’s not our job to provide financial help for that (housing) but given some of the businesses coming in, we need to think about the housing that will be affordable for everyone in every range,” Ruge said.

Council member Lee Urbanovsky agreed with Haehn that the concept of affordable housing is “perceptual” and asked Sparks what the council’s direction to the Housing Committee would be if the study moved forward.

Altmiller jumped in to answer Urbanovsky’s question before Sparks had the chance saying the committee should “look at the city’s comprehensive plan where it says we want a community where people could age in place and live, work and play in Buda.”

Ruge showed his ultimate support for the issue to be taken up by the Housing Committee.

“We have some creative people on the committee who may be able to show us something,” Ruge said.

Sparks reiterated the intended purpose for the study was to give Buda more control over the desired look and feel of future housing. The city also plans to assess if Buda is getting what it wants, instead of being dependent on developers.

“This isn’t necessarily a conversation about affordable housing, it’s a conversation about whether Buda is getting the type of housing it wants,” Sparks said.

Council’s direction to staff to move forward included reaching out to the 20 housing committee members to gauge their interest in serving. Staff will also broaden the spectrum of the study to all housing needs in Buda, not just affordable housing.

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