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Austin voters approve Affordable Housing bonds by wide margin

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 by Michael Kanin

City of Austin voters handily approved $65 million in affordable housing bonds Tuesday. The vote recharges an Affordable Housing program left without a clear funding path after $70-million-plus ballot question failed at the polls in 2012.


At the end of the evening, more than 60 percent of those voting cast ballots in favor of the bonds. Turnout was slightly more than 14 percent, with 65,631 votes cast, according to unofficial data from Travis County.


Longtime political consultant David Butts summed up the differences between last year’s vote and the 2013 election. “The areas that voted for (U.S. President Barack) Obama that voted against the bonds last time, voted for the bonds this time,” he said. “Solid vote among women, Democrats, African-Americans, Hispanics – they were a bigger share of the vote in this election and they were more consolidated about knowing what they were going to vote for, as opposed to last time, when, to a lot of people, it was a total surprise that (affordable housing) was even on the ballot.”


In other words, Butts argued, a less crowded ballot helped the cause. “It makes a big difference,” he continued. “They did all this targeting to certain voter groups so they knew what the value of this was, and that it was something that should not have been defeated.”


Austin politicos who supported the election exuded a feeling of relief and satisfaction. Affordable Housing bond campaign manager Elliott McFadden was exuberant. “I really think tonight’s victory reflects the values of Austin,” he told In Fact Daily. “A lot of people in the last election thought Austin had changed because we narrowly voted down the housing bonds. I think really what happened is things got caught up in a really busy election cycle and when we spent this campaign going out and making the case that Austin is a better place when we have housing for everyone, the voters responded to that.”


Two Austin City Council members joined McFadden in that sentiment. “I’m happy they passed, because it shows our values,” said Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole. “We care about people. We care about seniors. We care about our families. We care about our homeless.”


“The bonds are an incredible tool for us,” Council Member Laura Morrison said. “We have lots of tools and we need to be strong on every one of them but these are very big tool.”


Morrison, a vocal advocate for the larger concept of affordability, continued along those lines: “They are going to open up so many options for us. You saw the numbers in terms of what the 2006 bonds did – how they were leveraged, and all of the great resources they’ve brought on line, and the jobs they’ve created. But the bottom line is we’re going to be able to make a much bigger dent in a huge need that we have for affordable housing.”

As for where the funding might be directed, Morrison emphasized the need for preserving existing affordable housing stock – something, she noted, that is beginning to age — and ongoing work to incentivize the upgrade and preservation of those city apartment buildings. That she, added, would be accomplished in return for a commitment to keep units affordable.

Morrison, like others, was bolstered by the passage of the bonds. “It’s such a good thing for maintaining the diversity in our community. To think that voters in Austin aren’t behind that – that would be very dispiriting about who we really are. So this is uplifting.”


Cole, along with Council members Chris Riley and Bill Spelman had pushed hard for a new set of bonds, despite the result of the 2012 election. Some had worried that a new question so close to the failure of the 2012 ballot might sink future passage of Affordable Housing bonds.


On the other side, Don Zimmerman had led the Travis County Taxpayers Union’s opposition to the bonds. He told In Fact Daily Tuesday that his group was “extremely disappointed.”


Zimmerman cast the passage of the bonds as fueled by corporate interests. “I think it’s very difficult to overcome hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate (money),” he said, pointing to proposition support from groups such as The Real Estate Council of Austin, and the Home Builders Association.


“Corporations, corporations, corporations,” summed Zimmerman, who also noted that, had affordable housing advocates been unsuccessful in this election, “they would have come right back and demanded millions more.”


Zimmerman vowed to keep fighting. As In Fact Daily reported Tuesday, TCTU volunteer Brad Parsons has filed an ethics complaint against the Austin City Council and City Manager Marc Ott.

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