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Voters strongly back $350M proposal for affordable housing

Wednesday, November 9, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

Voters strongly approved the city’s latest bond proposal to create more affordable housing, giving the city another $350 million to direct toward housing acquisition, repair and rental programs.

The vote totals from Travis County as well as portions of Hays and Williamson counties covered by the proposition had it winning by just over 70 percent, 222,578 in favor and 91,477 opposed.

The bond was something of a scaled-up version of 2018’s $250 million bond proposal that voters OK’d to help address the growing crisis of affordable housing throughout the city. Austin’s popularity has attracted newcomers from all over the country for more than a decade, pushing many longtime residents out of their homes and making it difficult for first-time homebuyers to afford the investment.

City leaders and housing advocates had initially looked at another $250 million proposal and then moved on to a $300 million ask before deciding this summer to push the number higher in anticipation that rising land prices and inflation would limit how far the money could go in remedying the city’s housing issues.

Mayor Steve Adler said the strong support for the housing bond as well as big-dollar requests from Austin Independent School District and Austin Community College showed the city’s residents don’t shy away from making large investments in their community.

“I feel good not only about the passage of the housing bond but the weight of the vote in favor. It’s some overwhelming numbers in the community and it just reaffirms the pride we have in the city because we care about one another and know that the magic of this city is dependent on retaining the people that live here. The large ISD and ACC bond is strong evidence the community is willing, able and eager to invest in the magic of this place.”

Adler said the defeat of an $85 million housing bond in 2012, and the approval of a $65 million package in 2013, sent mixed messages to leaders about the willingness of residents to back affordable housing. He said the decision to go big in 2018 and again this year won support “because people would think it could have more impact.”

Adler said the city’s quick deployment of funds from the 2018 bond should be repeated by the next City Council.

“Our affordability crisis has become a poster child for the country, so it became that much more important to be smart and fast and efficient to deploy those funds quickly. And I would anticipate the same thing with this bond because we have to seek out and find those opportunities to keep housing people as quick as we can.”

Walter Moreau, executive director of the Foundation Communities nonprofit that has 1,000 affordable units under construction, said he hopes this bond package is used more to build homes than the 2018 proposal, in which the city emphasized land acquisition for future construction.

“In the 2018 bond there was a big emphasis on the city buying land and they’ve actually banked a lot of sites. I hope there is a pause to get more housing built on the land the city has bought. It’s great for the city to bank land, but we need housing,” he said. “There’s the sentiment that you can’t go wrong buying land, and if the city controls it you have more of a say in what gets built. The tricky part is that city funding and the land are just a piece of the entire puzzle and you have to find sites that work with tax credits or other funding or nothing gets built.”

Photo: Advocates rally in favor of Austin’s housing bond in July.

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