When Mexican American and African American families sell or lose their homes and leave central East Austin forever, a cohesive and culturally rich community loses valuable assets and the ties that bind it: As a whole, the community loses decades of wisdom, history, and spirit across the generations that have lived there. Those selling their homes leave a neighborhood that is evolving to become a healthier, more connected, park and amenity-filled one. And the problem is self-perpetuating: every sale makes it much more difficult for other families to stay in the community.
Here are 10 ways families can keep their homes so our community can survive and thrive:
• SAVE $$ RIGHT NOW ON YOUR HOUSING EXPENSES. Pay the least amount in property taxes by using all of your available exemptions, e.g. Homestead, Senior, Historic, and protesting your taxes. Get this info from the Travis Central Appraisal District*, contact the City of Austin*, or local nonprofits whose mission it is to help you, such as Eastside Guardians, etc.
And, reduce your mortgage payments by refinancing the interest rate, shopping for lower cost insurance, and canceling the Private Mortgage Insurance that came with your loan.
• KNOW WHAT YOUR HOME IS WORTH AND ACCESS THE CASH VALUE IN YOUR HOME WITHOUT SELLING IT. If you are a longtime owner, most likely your home is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more than you paid for it. That difference is YOUR money! To find out what it's worth, look it up online or compare with other homes by calling For Sale signs. Selling your home IS NOT the only way to access your money. Gone are the days of low interest Home Equity Loans, but you can still borrow at relatively low rates by refinancing. Or, if you're over 61 years, you can obtain an FHA-insured reverse mortgage. Reverse mortgages can be repaid by heirs when they purchase the property or develop it.
• GIFT OR SELL A PORTION OF YOUR HOME TO A CHILD OR RELATIVE, REDUCING YOUR TAXES AND AVOIDING SELLOFF BY HEIRS AT DEATH. For those who cannot qualify for refinance, have issues with reverse mortgages, or need funds, there are ways to reduce your property taxes and keep your property in the family. You can actually sell or transfer your backyard without a City subdivision or zoning process. In most neighborhoods, you are allowed to have two homes on your property. State law allows you to divide the ownership of any home type on the property: guest homes, duplexes, etc. Banks will finance construction renovation for two separate owners. By reducing the land area in your name, your taxes go down and are shared with another owner on the property. Finally, creating space on your property for subsequent generations will preserve and even increase the number of families who have called, and will call, East Austin home for decades.
• STAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD MORE AND SIGNIFICANTLY LOWER YOUR TRANSPORT COSTS. Because we live in a centrally located neighborhood with a wealth of small businesses, two cars per family, and maybe even one, are no longer necessary. Staying in the neighborhood for your daily needs by walking, taking the bus, car2go, Uber or Lyft, and carshares is much more feasible with these options available. Saving up to $500 - $1000/mo. on car payments, gas, insurance, maintenance, parking, and tickets can be a great way to offset increasing housing costs or property taxes, while contributing to your community's local economy.
• RENT OUT A PORTION OF YOUR HOME. American families have been renting out rooms and garage apartments for centuries. There is no law that prevents you from renting out a room or portions of your home. Adding a separate exterior entrance to a room, its own bathroom, and other minor modifications can create a completely separate room for a relative or friend. And finally, although short-term rentals (STRs) require licensing, occasionally renting your place when you’re out of town can help pay for unforeseen expenses. You can even rent a portion of your land to someone who will construct an accessory dwelling to live in, using a standard Ground Lease.
• START OR SUPPORT COMMUNITY HOUSING AND ECONONIC DEVELOPMENT NONPROFITS AND ENLIST PROFESSIONALS THAT LIVE HERE TO PROVIDE EXPERTISE. Nonprofit housing developers, like the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corp. (GNOC), have had a substantial impact on keeping longtime families in the neighborhood, but there is no rule that we cannot have a dozen like them, and there are other creative ways to finance affordable housing other than government subsidies or tax credits. These nonprofits do not just build housing; they can build incubators, co-working space, help small businesses, create jobs for artists, repair homes, pay delinquent property taxes for families, provide estate planning and tax advice, etc. All of these support systems can help longtime residents stay in their homes by cutting costs or helping to increase their incomes. If you can't start one, donate to or volunteer with Eastside Guardians, Affordable Housing Visions, Arte Texas, GNDC, or other CDCs.
• PROPOSE AND SUPPORT RULES THAT ALLOW AFFORDABLE 'MISSING MIDDLE' HOUSING TYPES SO WE ARE NOT LIMITED TO SUBURBAN-STYLE SINGLE FAMILY HOMES AND LARGE MULTIFAMILY.Even without approving a single zoning change or variance, our neighborhood allows enough development to easily double the population of East Austin. As current zoning stands, the market is financing 3-4 story apartments, large high-end homes, and high-priced condos throughout the neighborhood. What our neighborhood encourages and what the neighborhood builds itself will have a greater impact on affordability than what it fights against on a case-by-case basis. To increase affordable units in our neighborhood, we have to increase units of different sizes. Stopping new construction is impossible and reducing supply will cause further increases in housing costs. ADUs, garden apartments, co-housing, Imagine Austin/CodeNext, and senior housing adjacent to SF3 are a few of the ways to allow ‘missing middle’ types of housing.
• LONGTIME FAMILIES RENT TOO. Increasing the homestead exemption sounds nice for homeowners, but what about the majority of our population, and the overwhelming majority of hard-working families, who rent? Allowing families to stay together in a community means ensuring that there is plenty of affordable rental here too, not limiting multifamily or missing middle zoning only to large tracts. Support innovative projects, policies that incentivize them, and redevelopment of surplus public properties to allow for a variety of homes in our neighborhood at all price levels.
• PLAN AHEAD TO KEEP YOUR HOME IN THE FAMILY WHEN YOU OR YOUR SPOUSE DIE(S) OR BECOMES INCAPACITATED. Even If you have a will providing for your heirs to inherit your home when you die, you can’t anticipate how the property will be used and disposed of. Often selling is easier than getting all potential heirs to agree on how to use a property. What they may not know is that there is probably enough money in the home to improve or rebuild a new home on the site. Planned in advance, you can identify the heir that wants to stay in the house and create a plan to pay the other heirs either through partial sale or payments from the heir who takes the home. There also are other avenues: trusts, reversionary trusts, long-term ground leases, etc., that can help families keep their properties for generations. These options can be explained long before you or your family are forced to make tough decisions at time of death. If you want your family to keep the property, be sure to express these wishes. All of this should be discussed with family members, an estate planner, or nonprofits who provide this service free to fixed income homeowners and their families.
• BECOME A DEVELOPER OF YOUR OWN PROPERTY & NEIGHBORHOOD INSTEAD OF HANDING TO THE OTHER DEVELOPERS. If you own a home in East Austin, you have multiple options to reap the benefits of homeownership without giving anything away. The bottom line is: you have choices and by helping your family stay, you will impact how the neighborhood evolves for generations to come. Whether you call yourself a Developer, or Community Builder, or just a Neighbor, you can take actions to create the neighborhood you desire. Or, you can try to fight it all; or worse wait for someone else to do something about it, and watch your neighborhood evolve without you.
Travis Central Appraisal District - 512·834·9317, www.traviscad.org
City of Austin - 512·974·2000, http://www.austintexas.gov/