Student Housing Cooperatives and the University Neighborhood Overlay in Austin, Texas
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This research investigates an alternative to traditional affordable housing by examining cooperatives in West Campus, Austin, Texas. Recent estimates suggest that real estate constitutes the majority of global investment, and as much as 75 percent of that wealth is in housing (Stein 2019). Diminishing funding for public housing, land speculation, predatory lending, and a spreading technocracy within the urban core have exacerbated the problems of unequal access to and displacement from urban space. As “new urbanist,” mixed-income developments mask poverty via neoliberal policy and market based incentives, there is a need for alternative means to affordable housing that are independent of the market (Hanlon 2010). In West Campus, a paradigmatic case of neoliberal development policy is intertwined with de-commodified, non-profit cooperative living space through the University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO). The UNO policy, adopted by the City of Austin in 2004, uses an affordable housing trust fund that allows developers to pay into the trust fund in-lieu of building the required affordable housing units within a market-rate development. This trust fund is then accessible to the two affordable housing cooperatives that function within UNO. Mobilizing a genealogical framework, this research examines the development of UNO, situating the policy within the broader historical trajectory of the cooperatives and West Campus, and assesses how the cooperatives have used the trust fund money. Despite adding hundreds of affordable units to the West Campus community and giving the cooperatives significant funding benefits, the UNO trust fund has not been able to wholly give the cooperatives in West Campus the means to expand and reclaim urban commons space.