Last year, Austin-Round Rock permitted 30,000+ housing units. The problem is that they are designed for a high carbon footprint. That 2018 cohort of housing and their planning is the equivalent of 6 more years of carbon emissions from the Fayette Coal power plant. It is important that we shut down Fayette Coal Power plant, but also that we reform our urban planning designs!

The new home building industry in the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area (AUS-RR MSA) is a $5.5 billion juggernaut of annual economic activity. The dominant industry in the region, it currently is responsible for thousands of acres of lost ecosystems and miles of new, tax-subsidized pavement each year. Instead, it should be harnessed by citizens to fix the environment, reverse climate change, and regenerate our atmosphere for a livable future.  Our quality of life depends on it.

Type of HousingNumber of Permits
2018 in AUS-RR
Avg. Value/UnitSegment Value ($Billion)
Single Family17,665$239,000$4.22
Multi-Family 5+12,840$85,200$1.09

The AUS-RR MSA is now at 2.2 million people, representing 1 million housing units in 2019, growing at approximately 500 people/week. This growth is a great opportunity for change.

In regions of “drive to qualify [for a mortgage],” average carbon footprints can easily be in the range of 80 tons CO2e/yr of emissions (per Berkeley Carbon Calculator), compared to a national average of 50 (i.e., a 60% increase), adding the significant carbon liabilities to the MSA each year. None of these properties are adding regenerative carbon assets (sequestration).

Type HousingNumber of Permits
2018 in AUS-RR
Assumed* Carbon Footprint/yr
Tons CO2e/yr/unit
40 yr life Impact
(tons CO2e/yr)
Single Family17,66580.0*56 million
Multi-family6550.0*0.33 million
Multi-family 5+12,84025.0*14 million
Total30,76057.1 (average)70.3 million

The Fayetteville Coal Plant 2006 emissions were 12 million tons.

* CoolClimate Household Carbon Footprint Calculator    Berkeley.Edu   D. Kammen

At 30,760 new units/year and an average Nature Towns size of 1,280 units, that represents 24 villages per year that could be regenerative. With 1,280 units over a gross area of 4 units/acre, concentrated into 25% of the space to allow for the required green infrastructure, the density is 16 units per acre on 80 acres. Further adjustments for community spaces can increase this to an average of 18-20 units/acre, thus making transit centers viable and greatly reducing vehicle miles travelled.

The Nature Towns model seeks to create villages in which the average household carbon footprint can be an average of 5 tons CO2e/yr or better. This would represent a reduction of 10x, or 90%, from the current average. 

The cost for this program is likely less than current housing for the following reasons:

  • By focusing on the quality of amenities outside the home, home sizes can be comfortably reduced, thus reducing footprint.
  • Green Infrastructure costs/household are estimated at $20,000. This can be financed with tax-free green municipal bonds using low interest rates, resulting in household payments of $100/month, which can be offset by the local food production at lower costs.  The net effect is that green infrastructure costs do not result in higher costs of housing, and reduce the risks of individual households carbon risks for sequestering 15 tons CO2e or more, which are dominated by the much higher costs of sequestration ($7,500/household/yr) as opposed to abatement (solar panels etc), which are used to bring the housing to an average of 20 t CO2e/yr.
  • At 30,670 units/year, this would drive $613,400,000 into local green infrastructure each year.  
  • The requirement to replace all of our housing inventory over a 30-year timeframe would guarantee the housing and development sector with a $5.5 billion revenue for the next 30 years, making the sector recession proof. It would reduce our region’s exposure to carbon asset bubble and stranded assets. Units with lower carbon liabilities will be valued at greater property tax values. At $7,000/yr and a 20-year valuation, that would be $140,000 per home or $140 billion over the MSA.


Households with the lowest carbon footprints by design will be Winners and those with high carbon footprints will be Losers.  Households with high carbon footprints/liabilities will fail to appreciate in property value and may even depreciate faster, the higher the footprint, resulting in a loss of home equity.  Households with high carbon footprints/liabilities will be harder to sell, while properties with carbon assets will be valued higher and sell more easily because their cash flows for carbon liabilities will be substantially lower, and their lifestyles/amenities much more regenerative/better.

To download a printable version of this google doc, please click here.

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