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UT Austin President’s Office Funds Affordable Housing Research

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AUSTIN, Texas — Four University of Texas at Austin faculty members will lead research projects on affordable housing as part of a broader university effort to address issues of pressing importance to the Austin community.

President Jay Hartzell set a goal in 2021 to focus university resources on some of the region’s acute societal challenges, such as affordable housing and mental health concerns, by working with community partners, better coordinating university efforts and leveraging university expertise.

As a result of that commitment, the Office of the President is funding four Faculty Innovation Grants to tackle issues related to affordable housing.

Faculty Innovation Grants provide $25,000 of support to faculty members who explore innovative and impactful ideas. In partnership with public- and private-sector stakeholders, including nonprofit organizations, the first round of grants is going to faculty members seeking to enhance housing stability and conditions, reduce rates of housing displacement, and provide better tools for linking housing and transportation needs.

Recipients will share their findings at a future symposium on the UT Austin campus.

“Working with local partners on problems they are already addressing gives each of these projects the chance to have an immediate, positive impact on the pursuit of housing solutions for our community,” said Allan Cole, a social work professor serving as deputy to the president for societal challenges and opportunities. “If successful, each project has the possibility of scaling up to deliver wider solutions.”

The four grants are:

Examining Housing (In)Stability after Incarceration

Principal Investigator, Elizabeth M. Pettit

Pettit and her research team will work with Building Promise USA, a community-based organization, to support individuals adjusting to life after incarceration. Their research will evaluate common metrics used to gauge re-entry, including access to housing and housing stability, as well as reporting new indicators that center around the lived experiences of people as they seek to secure affordable housing.

Improving Housing Conditions and Stability for Residents of “Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing” in Austin, Texas

Principal Investigator, Elizabeth Mueller

Mueller and her team will identify strategies that the City of Austin Housing and Planning Department can use to foster improved housing conditions and greater housing stability for tenants living in Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH), a housing term for residential rental properties that are affordable as compared with local markets but not subsidized by government programs. The project will include research specifically centered around the extent and character of health-threatening housing conditions, as well as the extent and character of management practices that produce or undermine housing stability.

Alley Flat Initiative Anti-Displacement Pilot

Principal Investigator, Jake Wegmann

Wegmann and his team aim to evaluate the extent to which Austin’s Alley Flat Initiative Anti-Displacement Pilot is reducing or removing barriers to developing accessory dwelling units (known as alley flat units) among participant homeowners. The initiative promotes the construction of small housing units co-located with single-family houses owned by homeowners of moderate income. This evaluation will help the Community Powered Workshop, the Austin-based nonprofit partner for the program, better operate the program at a larger and more transformational scale in Austin, while also providing lessons that can be used for similar projects across the country. 

Develop a Planning Support Tool for Promoting Equitable Transit-Oriented Development and Affordable Housing in Austin, Texas

Principal Investigator, Ming Zhang

Working with the City of Austin Housing and Planning Department and Capital Metro, Zhang and his team will develop a multiobjective optimization tool for Equitable Transit-Oriented Development (ETOD) planning in transit corridors. The research team aims to research the modifications of the five attributes of transit-oriented development — density, diversity, design, distance to transit, and destination accessibility — to achieve ETOD goals.

“We had tremendous interest from UT faculty to work on these projects with and for the community,” said Cole. “We live and work here, and it’s gratifying to join forces with our fellow Austinites to seek creative solutions that can have a positive impact on our city.”