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Kathie Tovo: A ‘completely unexpected’ year

Thursday, January 7, 2021 by Daniel Salazar

For Kathie Tovo, who has been on Austin City Council since 2011, 2020 was a year like no other.

Tovo told the Austin Monitor that she’s most proud of some of the work she did on the city’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. She pointed to a resolution to expand eligibility criteria for utility assistance shortly after the pandemic hit Austin.

“For so very many families in our community, that increase in utility bills is putting further pressure on their already really tight financial circumstances,” she said. “So I was super happy that we were able to get that passed through Council and that our staff were so responsive and were able to get that in place right away.”

Tovo is also proud of the city’s support for the caregiver meals program that provides emergency food access for caregivers of students in Austin-area schools who are experiencing food shortages due to the pandemic.

“That just has been one of the highest priorities for my time and my staff’s time …. We’ve been a partner in that effort for the entire pandemic,” she said. “I’ve heard some really moving stories about parents who, when they found that there were meals for them too, were just so appreciative. It’s been an amazing success.”

Tovo has had to balance long-standing issues with the pandemic’s immediate need for response.

“Certainly for my office, our attention has been on pandemic-related issues, but they’re not entirely different from the kinds of priorities that we had before,” she said, pointing to homelessness and Red River Cultural District support as issues relevant to District 9 before the pandemic. “It’s certainly been a completely unexpected and overwhelming landscape.”

“One of the hardest things about being a Council member is that you’re always short on time and short on funding to meet all the needs,” she added. “That challenge through these last nine months has been extreme …. It is, in many ways, really heartbreaking work.”

But Tovo said she’s been impressed with the work of Austin Public Health and the Economic Development Department throughout the pandemic.

She’s also excited by the city’s progress toward setting up an economic development corporation.

“I’m really proud to see that established. I believe it will really be an asset in our community – it’ll help us, I hope, use our city-owned tracts well for the community’s benefit.”

Smaller initiatives, like water fountains throughout downtown, also came to fruition this year.

Tovo said she’s mainly been “catching up on things” during the holiday break, with constituent work as well as work on the HealthSouth redevelopment project in the northeast part of downtown. The city will consider a contract in January to redevelop the facility and an accompanying parking garage.

Tovo, who has worked on redeveloping city-owned tracts for community benefit while on the Council dais, feels the HealthSouth tract has “a lot of potential.”

“I think it’s a dynamite opportunity for this city to really get a substantial number of affordable units downtown where we know we have thousands of people who are working in low-wage jobs in that area and can’t afford to live anywhere close,” she said. “I’m excited to see it moving forward.”

Looking forward, Tovo said continued work on ending community homelessness will be her top focus in 2021.

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