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Five Council members signal support for major housing bond

Friday, June 15, 2018 by Jack Craver

Mayor Steve Adler and four other members of City Council announced their support Thursday for putting a major housing bond on the ballot in November.

Standing in front of scores of activists on the front steps of City Hall Thursday morning, Adler said that funds from previous housing bonds approved by voters in 2013 and 2006 were nearly depleted but that the need for affordable housing has only grown.

Adler has described transportation and affordability as the city’s two chief challenges. He credited Austinites for supporting the $720 million transportation bond that he pushed in 2016, saying that they recognized the city’s pressing needs in that domain and responded accordingly. Now it is time, he said, for voters to “act big” on affordability.

“Just as voters responded then, they have to respond now,” he said.

While Adler did not cite a specific figure, Council Member Greg Casar specified in his remarks that he wanted between $250 million and $300 million for housing. That is also the figure supported by Keep Austin Affordable, a campaign coalition that formed to back the $65 million affordable housing bond that voters approved in 2013 and is gearing up for another bond campaign now.

The bond package that city staff has recommended to Council includes only $161 million for affordable housing, along with $176 million for transportation, $167 million for parks, $184 million for stormwater and water quality improvements, and $128 million for renovations of city facilities.

If the total $816 million package were approved by voters, it would lead to a 1.75-cent property tax increase for every $100 of property valuation. If those seeking more funding for housing in the bond do not want to further increase the tax rate, they may push for less money for the other categories than proposed by staff.

At the City Council meeting that day, 120 people signed up to register their support for the bond package, while three registered as “neutral.” Zero signed up to speak against. Of the 20 or so people who were able to stick around until after midnight to speak on the matter, all spoke favorably of a large bond for affordable housing.

Also speaking at the rally in support of more money for housing were Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council members Delia Garza and Pio Renteria.

Renteria spoke of having been one of 12 people living in a two-bedroom home in East Austin, and the role that housing assistance from a neighborhood group had provided in allowing his family to be housed after his father lost his job. He wants to provide the same helping hand to those in his east side district who are increasingly being priced out of the city.

Garza encouraged people to think not just as individuals, but as a community, in assessing the housing bond. Many of the supporters standing behind her at the rally, she said, would not benefit from subsidized housing, but they know it is the right thing to do for others.

“My fight is your fight – mi lucha es tu lucha,” she said.

The five Council members who spoke at the rally are one vote shy of a majority on Council. In trying to get the record amount of money for housing, they will almost certainly face resistance from others on the dais who either do not want to support a tax increase or do not want to divert money from other priorities, such as parks or road repairs.

A number of people speaking at the rally Thursday described how affordable housing programs have benefited them. Jennifer Hidrogo spoke emotionally about how Foundation Communities, one of the area’s largest nonprofit affordable housing providers, had provided her and her two children an apartment at one of its 16 multifamily properties, Live Oak Trails, after she fled an abusive relationship.

Gage Kemp talked about how permanent supportive housing had helped him climb out of homelessness. He said that the services and mentorship that he received at a housing center on the east side “filled the void left by an inadequately structured upbringing.”

“Thank you to all the voters who make this possible,” he said.

Photo by Dwight Burdette [CC BY 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

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