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Affordable housing supporters optimistic despite AISD bond results

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Even with this weekend’s defeat of two of four propositions in a nearly $900 million Austin Independent School District bond package, supporters of a future City of Austin affordable housing bond election remain optimistic they can convince city voters to approve such a measure.


Voters’ rejection of two AISD bond measures marks the second time in six months that the city’s electorate has turned down a bond request. The first came in November when participants in the general election turned down a $78.3 million city request for affordable housing bond dollars. That result sent Council and staff scrambling for a short-term, stopgap solution to take care of roughly $10 million in immediate needs.


A long-term solution remains elusive.


Some Council members – including Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole – have called for a 2013 affordable housing bond election in the hope that, with the proper message and outreach, they might achieve a different result. Others – including Mayor Lee Leffingwell – have indicated that they would be against the idea of going back to voters so shortly after Austin citizens turned down a request for affordable housing dollars (See In Fact Daily, January 14).


Elliott McFadden is the campaign manager for Keep Austin Affordable, a coalition of local entities calling for a November 2013 affordable housing bond election. McFadden told In Fact Daily that the AISD vote would have little effect on his effort.


“I really don’t see much of a change,” McFadden said Monday.


McFadden later pointed to that fact that two of the AISD bond questions – roughly $500 million for what the district said was health, environment, equipment, and technology and infrastructure repairs and renovations – passed. He offered that Austin voters “aren’t anti-tax or anti-bond,” only that they were “choosing what they feel is valuable to invest in.” McFadden argued that the electorate, “see(s) there is a need for affordable housing.”


He added that he was optimistic that the Keep Austin Affordable campaign would succeed. Currently, McFadden and his team are knocking on doors, making phone calls, and throwing house parties. They have also produced a series of videos that can be seen on the organization’s web site.


Council Member Laura Morrison the city should take the AISD vote into consideration in making plans for another affordable housing bond vote.

“One important piece of our ability to go out for another housing bond is being able to assure the voters that we are maximizing the potential for affordable housing support through all tools available and not just depending on a bond,” she said. “The Council’s go-ahead last Thursday to remove CURE as a work around to developers supporting affordable housing was an important step. We have another opportunity coming in the near future, as a PUD zoning case comes forward and we have the discussion of whether the adopted code language (with 10 percent of all residential affordable in the PUD) will prevail or whether it will be watered down according to the staff’s suggestion that the code language is a mistake.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo did not see a direct correlation between the AISD bonds and a potential affordable housing ballot question. “In my mind, they are really separate issues,” Tovo told In Fact Daily. “I don’t see the two as connected in any way.”


Tovo called it “encouraging” that two of the AISD bond initiatives passed.


Still, Tovo said that it is important for policy makers to “understand why the voters did not support all of the bonds.” She also noted that it is “incumbent” on her and her Council colleagues to talk “more about the issue of affordable housing,” including the potential savings offered by programs that prove successful.


Cole saw more of a connection between the AISD bonds and a future City of Austin affordable housing question. Still, she was also optimistic. “While the school district and the city are separate from each other, we share much of the same electorate and our issues are intertwined,” she told In Fact Daily via email. “Two primary concerns that affect our overall quality of life and determine where people choose to live are the quality of our schools and the affordability of our housing.


She continued, “AISD’s passage of two bond items, representing approximately $500 million, shows that the electorate recognizes this fact and is willing to fund critical needs for our community,” Cole wrote. “Accordingly, I anticipate that transparent and accountable funding for a critical need like affordable housing, when done within our current debt capacity and without an increase in our tax burden, will meet voter approval.”

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