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Council still pondering use of remaining housing money

Friday, February 26, 2010 by Austin Monitor

The City Council has set March 11 as the date that it will decide what to do with the remaining $13 million in General Obligation (GO) bonds that has been set aside for affordable housing.


The move came as over two hours of public comment on the issue dragged the Council into a session that stretched just past 10pm. During the marathon, members heard from a number of interested housing advocates including Michael Willard, the executive director of Austin Habitat for Humanity, Housingworks Austin President Francie Ferguson, and former City of Austin Smart Housing Coordinator Stuart Hersh. The discussion generally centered on which segment of the population should benefit from the remaining funds.


Earlier on Thursday, Council Member Sheryl Cole used a briefing on the city’s homeless population to telegraph her wishes for the bulk of that money. “There’s really no question that it is actually more expensive for us to leave people on the street—our poorest of poor—without a home…then to actually provide (them with more temporary) services,” she said.


David Lurie, the director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department had just finished statistically illustrating that very fact. Among his suggestions for Austin’s approach to its homeless population was the construction of 350 units worth of permanent supportive housing. That project could require as little as $11.5 million dollars in construction capital, a figure that is just slightly less than the remaining GO bond funds.


At the end of last night’s hearing, Cole took the opportunity to make the final remarks of a very long day. She talked about eye-opening fact-finding trips to look in on homeless programs in San Antonio and Miami, and finished with a reference to the city’s recent fining of a man who had cleared trees from his property. “We did absolutely nothing with respect to the (homeless) people who were living (in those trees),” she said. “We can not just be about trees and water. We have to be about people.”


Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, who prefers using the remaining funds to target single-family homeownership, offered a round of congratulations. “We are not at a moment of crossroads, we’re not at a moment of divisiveness,” he said in reference to the varied opinions on how to spend the money. “We are at a moment of celebration.” He added that he felt that the Council was “absolutely committed” to the next move in Austin affordable housing.

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