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Council takes another run at funding affordable housing in city

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Council members took a step toward a potential new affordable housing referendum Thursday. The move came with the unanimous approval of a resolution that instructed City Manager Marc Ott to examine the possibility of going out for a fresh set of bonds that would be earmarked for affordable housing.


With their action, Council members continued to signal their intent to explore all avenues in an attempt to make up for the failure of $78 million worth of affordable housing bonds at the ballot box in November. However, Council Member Laura Morrison wanted to be sure that the intent of the resolution would not result in, as she put it, “papers being filed.”


The failure of the November 2012 housing bond initiative left city officials with few options for affordable housing funding. In a stopgap effort to relieve some immediate pressure, Council members instructed Ott to find $10 million to fund affordable housing efforts already in the pipeline. (See In Fact Daily, Whispers, Dec. 17, 2012.)


Still, that figure is well below the amount needed for a host of other projects. This past weekend, Council Members Bill Spelman and Chris Riley joined Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole at a press conference where the trio announced the resolution that passed Thursday.


“We have a critical need for temporary and long-term housing needs, for our seniors, our veterans, our women and children and our homeless,” Cole at the time. “That will go unmet unless we take that action.”


However, Council Members Laura Morrison and Mike Martinez, as well as Mayor Lee Leffingwell appear to be against going back to the voters to ask for something that failed just two months ago. (See In Fact Daily, January 14, 2013.)


Cole told her colleagues Thursday that this was not her intent. “The city has made a deep commitment to affordable housing and we’re simply looking for ways to honor that commitment and at the same time recognize and respect what the voters have said – and take action to do both,” she offered.


Though that may be the case, the resolution certainly reads like an argument for more bonds. It takes roughly seven pages for its sponsors to get their point across. Over that span, the item’s sponsors argue the effectiveness and reach of a successful 2006 affordable housing bond election, the broad needs of the city to find more funding, and how affordable housing is a programmatic focus of the Imagine Austin plan.


According to the resolution, the preliminary steps Ott should take with regard to a new housing bond include the production of a timeline, an analysis of the city’s bonding capacity, and the sort of project scoring matrix that might be analyzed by a citizen’s bond committee.


For Cole at least, the directions carried that purpose. “We are acting as almost a citizen’s bond committee,” she offered.


Morrison expressed concern about Cole’s statement. Thus prompted, Cole clarified it. “The bond committee is a subset of what the Council as a policy-making body would do under this resolution,” she added.


Ott will be back with the timeline portion of the request by mid-February. Other portions of the order may be produced in slower fashion.

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