The City of New Braunfels’ adopted 2017-2021 Economic Development Strategic Plan has five goals. They include workforce housing, quality of place, entrepreneurship, regional transit, and real estate development. The workforce housing goal was deemed the #1 issue/challenge for our community’s continued success and sustainability.
New Braunfels enjoys relatively high median incomes compared to our neighbors in San Antonio and the state of Texas overall. However, local wages for people who actually work in New Braunfels are lower and have not grown fast enough to keep up with rising land values, rents, and transportation costs. Simply said, housing and transportation costs are rising faster than wages and nearly half of the working age population that live here earn their salary elsewhere.
Our community is experiencing rapid population growth and this high demand decreases supply of affordable living units. In fact, housing units have increased by 23% since 2003 while population increased some 58% during the same time period. The issue is exasperated in rental housing locally with market rents being some 38% above the fair market rate. For the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers it is hard to imagine paying $1,200 per month for an apartment not including utilities! That is exactly what is facing are working age population here today.
The affordability crisis is impacting a large part of our city’s middle class as well. We are talking about our local educators, policemen, firemen, and white-collar service industry personnel. The construction of affordable housing is very challenging to developers, particularly given the state of zoning ordinances that limit high density development. Despite the above challenges, communities like ours can make a difference. The strategy recommends the city develop a funding and implementation engine for public-private partnerships to increase affordable housing units for households earning at or below 80% of the median family income.
Strategies to accomplish this goal include conducting a feasibility analysis to identify census tracts, relevant designations and preapproval for various federal, state, local, and philanthropic affordable housing, and mixed income commercial funds. Another strategy was to conduct a gap analysis on the number of units needed at various income levels and a framework for understanding the size gap between construction and available financing. Another strategy once the first two are accomplished, is to create a public education and marketing campaign to steer implementation to where it is most feasible and has the greatest overall impact. Finally, creating a specific set of incentives/deterrence for developers and businesses including, but not limited to, density bonuses, inclusionary zoning, fees included or higher/lower impact fees. This could include a review of existing codes and practices.
The New Braunfels industrial Development Corporation, known locally as the 4B board, recently held a priority setting workshop on all the strategic planning goals. In the workforce housing area, investing in regulatory reviews and organizational development workforce housing was highly rated. Related high priorities also included feasibility and planning for a local public transit system. Thus, ensuring affordable workforce housing is a critical component of the New Braunfels economic development strategy and future.