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Quintanilla jumps on affordable housing issue with four-point plan

Thursday, April 27, 2000 by

Follows close on heels of City Council's initiative

The Austin City Council kicked off its affordable housing initiative last week. Now a second candidate who wants to be on that council has offered his own plan. Rafael Quintanilla, a candidate for the Place 2 seat that Council Member Gus Garcia is leaving, held a press conference on the steps of City Hall yesterday to announce his proposals.

As reported by In Fact Daily April 21 and April 24, the City Council on April 20 created a $1 million Housing Trust Fund Grant Program and authorized waiving capital recovery fees for builders willing to meet SMART Housing guidelines. Mayor Kirk Watson called for putting another $1 million into the trust fund in the coming budget year. The Austin Housing Finance Corp. (AHFC) run by the city will be granted first right of refusal for any city-owned surplus land for use in affordable housing.

Quintanilla announced an "affordable housing four-point action plan," that for the most part goes beyond the council's initiative. Quintanilla summed up the details by saying, the plan "is one that requires very little rhetoric and can be implemented within a short period of time." Quintanilla pledged to do just that if elected. Here's a rundown on the elements of the plan:

(1) Use surplus land–"Inventory and identify all appropriate surplus city-owned land to be used as incentives for developers to build affordable housing." Quintanilla says, "The numbers must work for the private sector so the city must be proactive in offering land, fee waivers and other incentives to bring developers back into building affordable housing for the city."

Paul Hilgers, director of the Department of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development, tells In Fact Daily the council's direction indicates the AHFC "gets first right of acceptance on land surplussed by other city departments." He says the city will work with builders to see what will make an affordable housing project work. "It could be incentives or donating the land, or holding the cost of the land till the houses sell," Hilgers said. One obstacle, Hilgers said, is "utilities cannot donate us the land, because they have to get the value back." He expects to have to negotiate arrangements for any land declared surplus by utilities.

(2) Target Mueller for housing–"Both low- and middle-income affordable housing in any redevelopment plan of the old Mueller Airport; each at 25 percent of the total residential units to be built."

The Redevelopment and Reuse Plan for Robert Mueller Municipal Airport (RMMA) completed in March 1999 stated that for affordable housing, "The City of Austin has established a goal of 25 percent of all housing units at RMMA, including both rental and ownership housing, to be offered to families whose incomes are less than or equal to 80 percent of the median family income for the Austin Metropolitan area." The master plan is currently being revised and should be finished by late May (In Fact Daily April 13). Dave Kreider, economic development manager in the Planning, Environmental and Conservation Services Department, is overseeing the master plan revision and says, "Twenty-five percent is still the goal." Hilgers adds, from his perspective, "25 percent is the minimum" for RMMA affordable housing. Hilgers said there are two aspects to the "housing crisis," one being housing for people in poverty, the other for middle-income families. "The strategy laid out last week (for the City Council) will give us a shot at attacking both those problems."

Quintanilla says the 25 percent of RMMA housing for incomes of 80 percent or less of the median family income satisfies the low-income housing element. The 25 percent of RMMA housing for middle-income families is by definition aimed at families with incomes of more than 80 percent of median, he says. He estimates this would equate to homes selling for $100,000 to $150,000. "This is my rough estimate of what a middle-income family can afford," he says.

(3) Boost Section 8–"Retain Section 8 Housing for minimum-wage earners with families by negotiating with HUD (federal Department of Housing and Urban Development) for increased federal participation." Quintanilla says, "The community will be losing thousands of Section 8 units as the 30-year agreements with apartment owners begin to expire over the next few years." He says getting HUD to raise rates will require a concerted effort by U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, the Austin Housing Authority (which administers Section 8 housing) and the Austin City Council.

From 1983 to 1986, Quintanilla was executive director of the Texas Department of Community Affairs and also chaired the Texas Housing Agency Board during the same period. The board administered Section 8 certificates for rural areas, he said. Quintanilla says these certificates are issued to qualifying low-income individuals who must find a landlord willing to accept the rental rate paid by HUD. The landlord benefits by renting at below market because of the certainty of payment. But because landlords can get much higher rents in Austin's currently hot housing market, the feds need to raise the ante to keep the minimum-wage earners from being evicted.

(4) Add homestead exemptions–"Institute a City of Austin homestead tax exemption of $30,000 phased in over two years at $15,000 per year." The purpose of this exemption is to "provide some needed tax relief for all homeowners and lessen the chance that they will be forced to sell their homes and move elsewhere," Quintanilla says. "If we truly want to remain a diverse city, and not just an enclave for the very wealthy, we will move in this direction." He said Travis County currently offers a $30,000 exemption.

Betty Dunkerley, director emeritus of the city's Financial Services Department, and city economist Bill Ransom-Nelson say the city already provides a homestead exemption of $51,000 for homeowners age 65 or over and an exemption of $51,000 for disabled homeowners. The city offers no general homestead tax exemption, which is what Quintanilla is proposing. However, in law the general homestead exemption cannot exceed 20 percent of the appraised value. Thus, to qualify for a $30,000 exemption, a home would have to carry an appraised value of at least $150,000. Quintanilla said, "The median (appraisal) price is close to $150,000 now. If the full $30,000 exemption were implemented," that would equate to the 20 percent. Quintanilla said he would cap the general homestead exemption at $30,000, so that homes of a higher value would not get an even greater tax break.

The obvious drawback to providing these additional homestead exemptions is that the city will be giving up a sizable amount of property tax revenue. Dunkerley and Ransom-Nelson said they could not quantify the amount on short notice. Quintanilla recognized this fact in announcing his program, saying, "This, of course, will mean somewhat less revenue and some belt-tightening for the city. But now, during this time of unparalleled prosperity, is the perfect moment to think of and act for our citizens who are struggling to meet their housing costs." Quintanilla tells In Fact Daily that so much new property is being added to the tax rolls each year that the city can afford the tradeoffs. "The city clearly has to lower tax rates or we will be awash in new money," he says. (If the council does vote to lower the property tax rate when it adopts in the new budget in September, it will be the third year in a row to have done so.) "There's going to be such a higher appraised value there is a responsibility on the part of the city not to take so much from the citizens," Quintanilla says. "It's a matter of priorities and this is my priority."

Overall, Quintanilla says the time for addressing these issues is past due. "At almost every candidates forum, affordable housing comes up," he says. "People want something done and I think we owe it to them to try."

Raul Alvarez, Quintanilla's most formidable opponent in the quest to succeed Gus Garcia on the dais, also has an affordable housing plan as a component of his action plan for protecting neighborhoods, announced a month ago. (See In Fact Daily March 27.) Alvarez advocates: (1) state legislation that will abate or set limits on property tax increase for longtime and/or low-income homeowners, (2) increased investment in the Austin Housing Opportunity Trust Fund, and use of these funds to facilitate the construction and preservation of affordable housing, (3) work to prevent the loss of affordable multifamily and single-family housing units in the urban core, and (4) provide incentives for the development of small-scale, multifamily housing, and work with neighborhoods to identify areas where such developments would be located. "I'm refining the details to get these items done," Alvarez told In Fact Daily late last night.

"The real problems (for creating affordable housing) are the cost of land, labor and materials have skyrocketed," Alvarez said. "We need measures to address those gaps." Alvarez said, " Austin Interfaith agrees with me we need to dramatically increase funds in the Austin Housing Opportunity Trust Fund to help with down-payment assistance, closing cost assistance, principal buy down, as well as to acquire land for construction of affordable housing."

Bradley deal with the city closed, contractual documents filed of record

Finish date corresponded with Bradley's speech to RECA

The Bradley Settlement approved by the City Council March 23 was filed of record yesterday, says City Attorney Andy Martin. In Fact Daily reported yesterday that developer Gary Bradley was to make his speech to the Real Estate Council of Austin and the documents had not been filed of record, and that Bradley's spokesperson had no comment on the matter. No sooner had the story been published than voila! (not that there's any connection).

"All papers were signed today," Martin told In Fact Daily Wednesday afternoon. "The title company received a letter from Bradley today to release all documents from escrow."

Martin says the San Antonio law firm of Cox & Smith had been hired by the City of Austin to do the mechanics of the paperwork, while attorney Jim Nias of Jackson Walker in Austin handled the transaction for Bradley. He said Cox & Smith's job was to be sure the city was dealing with the right people, ascertained through title research. "They're very thorough," Martin said. "We pay them to be detail oriented." Martin said the necessary documents were recorded yesterday in both Travis and Hays counties.

"The important thing is it's all been done and it's in our rearview mirror," Martin said.

Austin Police PAC responds to critics by filing report, though still not complete

Police PAC spent more than $9,800 so far on independent actions

The Austin Police Political Action Committee (AP PAC), reacting to criticism by lawyers for Council Member Willie Lewis, acted quickly to file reports of independent expenditures with the city clerk's office. The lawyers delivered a letter demanding immediate enforcement of election laws to the city clerk and city attorney Monday, April 24 ( In Fact Daily April 25). The AP PAC filed its report the next day. The report included a sworn statement signed by AP PAC Treasurer Lisa Morrill "that the expenditures were made without the prior consent of the affected candidate or candidates, and without strategic communications."

City Code requires that independent expenditures that in the aggregate exceed $2,500 in a year be reported to the city clerk within seven business days after making the expenditures. AP PAC President Sean Mannix says there was difficulty in filing because the city clerk's office didn't have the forms. "The city ordinance prescribes a form. The city clerk had no form. So we had an attorney devise a form for us," he says, referring to Jim Cousar of Thompson & Knight. "We are doing our dead-level best to be in 200 percent compliance," Mannix said.

That said, the report appears to fall short of the specific reporting requirements of City Code Chapter 2-9-21 by not indicating when the expenditures were made, not indicating who the expenditures were made for or against, and not being filed within seven days of the expenditures.

That the report was filed late is evident: As reported by In Fact Daily April 25, an AP PAC letter dated March 30 and sent to the Danny Thomas campaign noted expenditures on behalf of that campaign in the amount of $7,395.25.

As to who the expenditures were made for or against, Mannix elaborated on the written report, telling In Fact Daily that the four entries for Ace Printing, which total $7,710, were payments for campaign signs that indicate the Austin Police Association's endorsement of Danny Thomas.

Entries for Opinion Analysts for $609.66 and Shelly Wilkinson for $1,500 were for mailing lists and design of mass mailer noting the Austin Police Association's endorsement of Mayor Kirk Watson, Place 2 candidate Rafael Quintanilla, Place 5 candidate Will Wynn, and Place 6 candidate Thomas, Mannix said.

The independent expenditure report also contained entries for $100 campaign contributions made to Watson, Quintanilla and Thomas, although the report need not have included those since they are not independent expenditures made without strategic consultation with the candidates' campaigns.

Attorney Cristen Feldman, who with attorney Fred Lewis filed the demand letter with the city, said yesterday, "It's ironic that the Austin Police PAC has a hard time following the rule of law. The PAC clearly had not been following the law this campaign cycle in regards to reporting requirements. However, after we filed our letter, they hurriedly put together a report. Unfortunately, even with notice as to their duties the PAC wasn't able to provide the information mandated by city campaign finance laws. In a nutshell, the report is incomplete and does not tell the story."

Mannix said, "We think we have a better understanding of that now but there's still a little bit of confusion. It would be helpful if the city had a form. We're proud of what we're doing and who we're supporting….We're in the business of upholding the law and we'd rather overreport than anything else. We would like a ruling that absent a city form this is what we should report to be in compliance."

No council meeting…If you get the feeling it's city political season, you're right. The City Council will hold no meetings between now and election day May 6… Candidates on parade…They ought to give City Council candidates a flashing red light a siren. They may need it to keep all the commitments being asked of them tonight, plus fund-raisers of their own making. Circle C Homeowners will catch the candidates 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Kiker Elementary, 5913 La Crosse Ave. in Circle C Ranch. For more info, call Ken Rigsbee at 476-0066 or 288-3478. The Leadership Austin Class of 2000 candidate forum is 6-8:30 p.m. at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Center, 1156 Hargrave St. in East Austin… Wynn fund-raiser…Place 5 candidate Will Wynn will be glad to accept a check at El Arroyo 5-7 p.m. tonight, 1624 W. 5th St. For more info call 472-2313… Lewis fund-raiser…Place 6 incumbent Council Member Willie Lewis hosts Barbecue and the Blues 7-10 p.m. tonight at Midtown Live, 7408 Cameron Road. For more info, call 933-0644… Fresh air democracy…The Patriotic Porch Party goes 4-8 p.m. at 807 Cumberland, the home of Rolando Piña, with candidates for City Council, Austin Community College, and AISD School Board dropping by. Sponsored by Galindo Elementary Neighborhood Association. For info call Piña at 441-2062… Fair Housing Expo…The Austin Human Rights Commission and Austin Tenants Council will host their annual Fair Housing Exposition Friday, April 28, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Zaragoza Recreation Center, 2608 Gonzales. Service organizations, state and local agencies, mortgage companies and builders will showcase their products and services for the general public. For more info, call Patty Gonzales at 499-2395.

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