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Natasha Harper-Madison’s focus in 2022? ‘Housing, housing, housing’

Tuesday, December 21, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison’s tenure on City Council has been marked by crisis. Elected in November 2018 as the District 1 representative, Harper-Madison barely had a year in office before Covid-19 struck.

“What a time to have your first term in public office!” she noted. 

Though the pandemic has persisted into the last year of her first term, it hasn’t stopped Harper-Madison from pursuing other policies to improve the lives of District 1 residents and all other Austinites. In 2021, her work included bolstering the African American Cultural Heritage District, getting the Colony Park Clinic off the ground, approving tax credits for the Rosewood Courts affordable housing project, and passing Carver Museum expansion plans. She also pointed out that District 1 led in affordable housing production. 

Harper-Madison is particularly proud of her ETOD resolution, a first step toward updating land use plans to allow more people to live near transit. She said it ties together her three policy “hymns” – housing, economic opportunity and mobility. It also aligns with Project Connect’s $300 million anti-displacement fund and will help guide how that money is spent. “No one else has done that,” Harper-Madison said of the anti-displacement dollars. “Watching our city become the template for the rest of the nation is a pretty cool feeling.”

Harper-Madison also notched a personal achievement this year: In January, she was voted mayor pro tem. “That was a proud moment,” she said. When Council returns this January, Harper-Madison will pass the title to Council Member Alison Alter. 

Harper-Madison’s main focus going into 2022 will be addressing the deepening housing crisis: “Housing, housing, housing. We have to just keep that laser focus on housing.”

Creating “missing middle” housing is a top priority. “I think we sometimes put too much emphasis on affordable housing; I want to put some specific emphasis on that missing middle housing,” Harper-Madison said. Missing middle housing refers to the range of housing types between single-family homes and large apartment complexes that zoning in many U.S. cities does not allow or incentivize. 

Harper-Madison also hopes to change minimum parking requirements to make the city more sustainable. “We need to think about how that’s tied directly to us having built the city around car ownership as opposed to building a city for pedestrians and communities and citizens.”

The mayor pro tem ended this year with a focus on housing, directing city staff to study barriers to housing supply and affordability. The resolution is intended to show how the city can “get out of our own way to be able to take care of our housing crisis.” 

While Harper-Madison acknowledged that it may be tough to get complete agreement on housing policy going forward, she hoped everyone would adopt a spirit of compromise. “When compromise goes well, everybody feels like they lost something.”

With any luck, Covid will start to become a less urgent matter next year – and Harper-Madison wants to further address a long-standing priority: getting more people involved in local civics. This means doing more outreach to District 1 residents and changing the way Council talks about policies, which is often only comprehensible to policy wonks. She hopes that “communicating with the general public about what our intentions are behind policy decisions” will help create “an equal playing field” so everyone can participate meaningfully in local democracy.

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