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Renteria, Almanza show stark differences in D3 runoff forum

Friday, November 30, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

A recent forum between District 3 City Council candidates Pio Renteria and Susana Almanza – who are siblings – showed that the runoff election may center on how much one of Austin’s fastest-growing areas should change in the years to come.

In Monday’s forum hosted by Austin’s League of Women Voters and the city of Austin’s Ethics Review Commission, the incumbent, Renteria, returned to the work he’s done to institute policies around housing affordability, transportation and economic empowerment, and said he hopes to make more incremental changes to address homelessness and loss of families in the district.

Almanza, a longtime community organizer, regularly criticized City Council for not taking the proper steps to prevent displacement and gentrification, and said changes to transportation and poor care for the city’s homeless populations are growing issues for the East Austin community.

On the issue of affordability, Renteria said the city needs to allow more construction of high-density units, including many at some level of affordability to address the growing demand for housing.

“The biggest problem we’re facing in Austin is that there are not enough homes,” he said. “We have young professionals out of college who have to rent three-bedroom houses in my district because they cannot afford an average apartment … which is $1,300 a month. That’s not affordable. We can preserve the neighborhood but we can’t preserve the people.”

Almanza said throughout the event that the city needs to put its publicly owned parcels around the city into use as locations for affordable housing, because rising land prices make affordable units a poor investment for developers.

“There is no evidence that density creates affordability,” she said. “If it’s not on public land then high density will be as unaffordable as it is now, with studios renting for $1,500 to $2,000 a month.”

On transportation, Renteria touted the improvements being made with the city’s 2016 mobility bond, with sidewalk and streetscape projects in parts of the district.

Almanza criticized Renteria’s role on Capital Metro and said route changes and poor options for seniors and so-called “non-choice” riders who don’t have other means of transportation have made it difficult for residents to move around the city.

Asked about the growing problem of homeless populations, Renteria said Council’s fee waivers for Community First! Village in Northeast Austin will help that housing project grow and move more people off of the streets. He also pointed to support for education and job training programs that are intended to help marginal communities before they become insolvent.

Almanza said the large number of children experiencing homelessness is one of the city’s biggest crises, and said she’d push for more comprehensive services to help address health, addiction and other chronic issues.

“Not only do they need shelter, but they need treatment for drug addictions, and we also have mental health problems,” she said. “It takes not just working with individuals, but working with families, churches, schools, communities and for-profit corporations to make sure they are giving their share to address the homeless population.”

On the issue of community health, Almanza said the city needs to provide more resources for basic health care and food scarcity issues in poor communities.

Renteria said existing programs are starting to make an impact, and that portions of the city’s recently passed bond package would do more to provide health care services in needed areas.

“We want to be so grateful for voters passing all those bonds, because we’re going to be able to address a lot of issues, especially with health,” said. “There’s some increased funding on the way. It takes a while to get to you, but it’s coming.”

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