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Housing, public health priorities for Garza in new year

Tuesday, December 27, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

City Council Member Delia Garza describes Council’s past year as “productive.” Specifically, Garza is pleased to report that she has begun to tackle some of her priority issues in earnest (all while handily winning re-election to the District 2 seat with more than 65 percent of the vote).

“I think, overall, it was a good year,” said Garza.

During the year’s review, Garza wanted to talk first about affordable housing. Specifically, she singled out a resolution she recently sponsored that asked the city to find funding and support for families looking to purchase their first homes and help educate the public on their options.

In terms of the bigger picture, Garza said that the lack of housing supply makes the issue worse. She continues to believe in sustainable growth.

“The biggest things I might have done directly affecting affordability is voting in favor of developments that bring more supply,” said Garza. “They are hard decisions to make, because I sympathize with somebody saying, ‘I don’t want my street to be a cut-through street.’ But, at the same time, we have to address the supply issue.”

That ties into her push to increase lending options for Austinites, she noted. As it turns out, her resolution asked for research that ultimately determined there aren’t enough “missing middle” homes in the city. Missing middle homes – which are things like duplexes and triplexes that serve middle-income households – have been a target of the Land Development Code rewrite, CodeNEXT, which is likely to dominate City Hall for the next year (or so).

Garza is anticipating that CodeNEXT will essentially be “a giant zoning case,” which she delicately described as an “interesting discussion” that will bring concerns about growth to the forefront, as well as the way the city handles development in general. She told the Austin Monitor that she’s looking forward to it.

“I really hope that CodeNEXT makes the process more predictable, and I think it will make a difference,” said Garza. “I really hope it streamlines the process … so we can get much-needed housing on line, more quickly.”

Garza was also happy to report that the city made some “great movement” on the topic of food access, both through a resolution she sponsored and through the budget process. She noted that the work resulted in new farmers markets and that in the new year she will continue working on eliminating some of the city’s food deserts.

This past budget season, however, was an “eye-opener” for Garza, who identifies it as an area of concern that stood out for her.

“This budget season was a lot tighter than our first one with news that the legislature might be trying to implement revenue caps at the local level. It’s extremely concerning,” said Garza. “Even without any cap on revenue, we’re facing another tight budget, and if there were a revenue cap it would most definitely lead to staff layoffs and cutting back on services.”

As if that weren’t enough to be worried about, Garza reiterated her belief that a lack of funding for Health and Human Services continues to widen the economic segregation in the city. Although the first year the new 10-1 Council was in place, members were able to add about $6.5 million to fund those services, Garza noted that this past year, they were able to add only $1.5 million. She said that is not keeping on pace with how the city should fund social services.

Looking toward the next year as an organization, Garza thinks the city is in a good position despite the recent departures of many executive-level staff members, including City Manager Marc Ott and Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo.

“I think a lot of staff maybe didn’t like the 10-1 change very much, and I can understand why. It was a huge change,” said Garza. “And we really did make them work more.”

Part of that extra work was due to the increased number of questions that came from the mostly rookie Council members in their first year. That, and the need for more explanations, is something that Garza sees as a good thing, and it’s something she continues to do on Council and as a member of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority board of directors.

“I think that’s what the public expects from us,” said Garza. “That’s my role.”

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