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Kitchen: ‘We could write a whole book about the last year’

Wednesday, December 22, 2021 by Seth Smalley

Ann Kitchen thrives from the many challenges of being a City Council member. “It’s a combination of being really proactive and trying to address the problems that we’re having as a city,” she told the Austin Monitor. “It’s always new, it’s always challenging and it really is an opportunity to help out people and the city as a whole.”

Though the city has had a particularly rough last two years, there are several areas where she thinks things have improved.

“We could write a whole book about the last year, but addressing homelessness was one of the key areas of change and it’s been an area that I have been leading on for the last few years,” she said, listing the passage of Austin City Council’s HEAL initiative as one effort she helped lead.

“It’s an innovative approach that connects people that are living on the streets to housing and social services and really helps them get on the path to permanent housing. We started it last February and it was successful, so we’re continuing it now into this next year.”

Along with Travis County, the city of Austin voted to put about $100 million of its American Rescue Plan Act funding toward the issue of homelessness. “It’s certainly not solved, by any means, but I do think we made some significant progress this year,” she said.

One issue tangentially related to homelessness is housing prices, which have rapidly increased along with demand, far outpacing supply in Austin.

When asked about her regrets, Kitchen nods to past areas of disagreement on Council over the city’s land use code.

“This past year, I think it was a mistake the way it was done. I was part of the group that was loudly stating at the time that I thought it was a mistake,” she said. “We’re starting to work on the Land Development Code again now in a way that is much more collaborative.”

“I’m looking forward to continuing to make the changes we need to make in our code, particularly around affordable housing …. One of the efforts we did initiate was allowing residential in commercial areas. In the past you couldn’t do that.”

The Council member detailed her contribution to vertical mixed-use zoning rules, an effort to increase the number of overall affordable units by building upward instead of outward. She also pointed to colleague Kathie Tovo’s push to change the laws pertaining to accessory dwelling units, making it easier to build smaller homes and rent them out.

“So it provides for more smaller places for people to live, more options,” Kitchen said.

In the realm of policing, Kitchen is proudest of her work on Austin Cares, a program that adds a mental health option to the city’s menu of emergency response services. Callers to 911 are given the option of selecting police, fire, EMS or mental health. “We actually have clinicians in 911 call centers,” Kitchen said, “and that makes a huge difference for people.”

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