Tuesday, July 28, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

Council, Capital Metro settle on Project Connect investment with anti-displacement measures

City Council and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors have landed on an 8.75-cent tax rate election as the best tool to fund the bulk of the Project Connect mass transit system as well as a variety of efforts to prevent transit-related displacement.

“We can’t do everything that we want to do, but we need to make this initial investment,” Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said prior to the vote at Monday’s joint meeting. “I’m excited about this opportunity, and especially about making sure that we are considering equity and displacement. And I can’t see any other option but to go to (8.75 cents).”

In unanimous votes, both the city and the transit agency board approved resolutions adopting the 8.75-cent rate for the ballot in November.

With the economy facing a long road to recovery, Capital Metro proposed an initial investment option last week to lower Project Connect’s financial burden on taxpayers. The proposal would fund 70 percent of the $10 billion transit vision under a tax rate election of 8.5 cents compared to the 11-cent increase required to fund the complete system.

The adopted 8.75-cent rate is identical to Capital Metro’s 70 percent initial investment option but it includes a total of $300 million – an addition of $100 million – for strategies to help residents remain in their neighborhoods as the transit lines attract more businesses and potential residents to the corridors.

Council Member Ann Kitchen, who sponsored an April resolution to help address transit-related displacement, said the strategies could include affordable housing investments, home repairs, targeted rental assistance, right-to-return policies or general economic assistance along the corridors. “These need to be unique to the neighborhoods along these corridors, they need to be co-created with the community and they need to be ahead of construction,” she said.

Capital Metro’s initial investment proposal included a total of $200 million for active transportation and anti-displacement efforts, but Mayor Steve Adler and Kitchen both expressed interest last week that more of the funds be used for displacement prevention. Over the weekend, Council discussed removing active transportation from the tax rate election to free up the full $200 million for displacement prevention and Council Member Greg Casar offered the 8.75-cent rate to secure even more displacement prevention funds.

With the historic 2018 affordable housing bond, Garza said Council started with a much higher ask than the $250 million that was ultimately put on the ballot but became concerned about asking too much of voters. “We could have passed more but we weren’t sure and we wanted to make sure something passed, so we have this opportunity now to add more for that displacement.”

The 8.75-cent tax rate election will cover the local share – about $3.85 billion – of the $7 billion initial investment. Funds for the remaining 30 percent of the plan could be approved by voters in a future local election or may become available through new state or federal dollars. Either way, Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke said the agency is still “very much committed to the entire system plan.”

Looking ahead, Council will include the 8.75 figure as it sets its tax rate and budget this week for the upcoming fiscal year. When that rate is formally adopted in August, the tax rate election will then be set for the November referendum.

“One of the values of transit is the ability to increase access and opportunity for a whole city,” Kitchen said. “By making an integral part of that … displacement mitigation strategies, we can ensure that everybody truly has the ability to participate in and take advantage of that.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Capital Metro: The city’s urban transportation system.

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