Land value taxation as a mechanism to relieve housing supply constraints in Austin, Texas

Land value taxation as a mechanism to relieve housing supply constraints in Austin, Texas

Through most of history cities have grown slowly, organically following the contours formed by the intersection of geography and commerce - with occasional guidance from master planners - to create resilient and equitable forms. But the industrial age begat zoning, new forms of taxation, and hastened infrastructure investments, all of which upended centuries of measured and incremental growth. Codified separation of distinct land uses required new methods of real estate taxation and enabled new forms of value creation. Time and cost savings in infrastructure construction facilitated exponential growth in the speed at which a city's form could change. Amidst the quickening morphosis, the city's ability to diligently and thoughtfully create urban forms that maximize equity for all stakeholders has been diminished; bureaucratic barriers to housing production increased costs, and necessitated subsidization in order to create affordable housing. In order to reenergize the city's ability to create an equitable city, we must reexamine our use of land-use regulations, tax policies, and formulate clear ways forward. This thesis first seeks a broad and versatile definition of an equitable city in order to understand the desired end-state of potential interventions. Second, the author explores the formal characteristics of the equitable city, the way current land-use regulations are either facilitating or impeding the creation of that form, and the potential for a better way forward. Third, the author taxonomizes the fiscal tools available to the city which influence the urban form. Lastly, the author looks at the Highland neighborhood of Austin, TX - a marginal neighborhood with recently completed light-rail stops, a regional mall being redeveloped into a mixed-use project anchored by a community college, and building typologies which do not comply with current zoning - and proposes palatable changes to the way real estate is taxed, which will facilitate the creation of a more just, equitable, and sustainable neighborhood.

PUBLICATION DATE: 2017