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Regional Affordability Committee takes first steps

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

Though they have a long road ahead of them, members of Austin’s Regional Affordability Committee are taking a measured approach to developing a strategic plan to achieve their goals.

Rather than take action at their second meeting on Monday, members made several requests for information from Budget Office staff and agreed to develop and adopt a set of guiding principles that will serve as the groundwork for a strategic plan at their next meeting on June 15.

“I think we’re trendsetting from the perspective that we’re probably one of the first to create such a committee,” said Austin Independent School District Trustee Paul Saldaña, acting as vice chair of the committee.

Committee members requested or said they will request a list of the public properties owned by each of the taxing entities represented in the committee, a list of interlocal agreements that the taxing entities share, and Travis Central Appraisal District data on the appraised values of apartment complexes before and after successful challenges to appraisals.

The committee includes representatives from the City of Austin; Travis County; Austin Community College; Capital Metro; Central Health; and the Austin, Del Valle, Leander and Round Rock school districts.

Saldaña explained that compiling the public property inventory could help in the development of affordable housing and suggested that the school district could play a role in providing land.

“We do have potential surplus properties and assets that we own that potentially could help us in providing affordable housing opportunities for teachers, for employees — more affordable workforce housing,” Saldaña said.

The list of interlocal agreements, Saldaña suggested, could help the committee take a more comprehensive look at how the different taxing entities share resources.

Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea said the apartment complex data could help the committee “understand how much of a reduction in the appraised value has taken place and then use that to have a conversation about the opportunity for apartment rents to be commensurately lowered.”

When TCAD sets a value for a piece of property, the owner of that property has an opportunity to challenge the appraisal, which can result in a lower appraisal and lower property taxes.

In an interview with the Austin Monitor, Saldaña expanded on the purpose of adopting a set of guiding principles. “I think what we’re trying to get to is some type of a score card, if you will, on the issues of affordability,” he said. “In order for you to do that, you have to have an index or the criteria as to how to assess that and, more importantly, how to develop an action plan.”

City Council will consider at Thursday’s meeting whether to direct staff by May 30 to file a petition with the state’s Appraisal Review Board challenging TCAD’s value appraisals for commercial properties in Travis County. The board is an independent body that considers taxpayer challenges to property appraisals.

The draft resolution, sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, states that “the undervaluation of commercial property imposes an unfair tax burden on residential property owners” and that a recent confidential study that the city commissioned “provides evidence that commercial properties are undervalued by the Travis Central Appraisal District.”

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