Hometown Housing: The Burnet, Texas, Model

Small town Burnet, Texas, looks at economic development through a unique approach to housing. The city rebates 100% of water, sewer, and electric tap fees; building, plumbing, and electrical permit fees; HVAC unit fees; and plan review fees for home building. There’s a catch – rebates are available only for qualifying lots in a targeted area.

Housing is an issue for small towns. A lack of quality housing keeps people from moving into your community or drives them away. As your town develops plans to meet the need and demand for new housing, remember the sustainability factor.

Small towns sometimes follow the urban-sprawl approach to new housing. They create a new housing development far from the core of the community, on the outskirts or beyond. The homes are usually lovely, but how sustainable is this model? What is the community’s cost of upkeep for the new infrastructure?

Strong Towns is an organization created to help towns become financially strong and resilient through sustainable growth. They explore land use and design to see if they affect financial success or failure. Do towns fall into a trap where expansion gives only the illusion of growth? You can learn more and see case studies at their website, http://www.strongtowns.org .

Burnet’s model is different. They develop and use existing residential lots in historically underserved parts of the community. They don’t succumb to an “expansion is better” approach. To qualify for the rebate, new homes must be built in existing residential lots located in underused parts of town. Their target market is people who earn 80-120 percent of the Area Median Income. Find out more about their program at http://www.cityofburnet.com/public_information/hometownhousing.htm .

Burnet and Strong Towns may be on to something – it’s worth a look and some thought. Contact me, Kathie Starkweather, with questions or comments. Email kathies@cfra.org or call 402.617.7946.