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New policy approved with affordable housing in mind

Friday, June 17, 2016 by Jack Craver

In an attempt to free up more money to provide affordable housing, City Council approved a new policy Thursday that will devote 100 percent of property tax revenue that comes from the sale of state-owned lands to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who authored the measure, introduced the item by recounting a recent drive down East Sixth Street during a rainstorm. “The number of people in that absolute downpour with newspapers over their head,” she said, drove home the dire need for the city to consider the homeless, in addition to those of moderate incomes, when devising housing policy. To that end, she explained, it is important for the city to recognize that the Housing Trust Fund can be used not only to finance the construction of housing, but to hire caseworkers or provide other services to the homeless. Council Member Greg Casar added words of strong support, noting that Seattle, a city substantially smaller than Austin, has a much larger budget devoted to housing. “We really need to do a lot more on (the housing) front to deal with the need,” he said. Opposing the proposal were Council’s three conservative members, Council members Don Zimmerman, Ellen Troxclair and Sheri Gallo. Gallo said she wasn’t comfortable tying a substantial amount of future property tax revenue to one program. “I think the concern is that as we talk about adding development and density to our city, it is important to realize we will have other pressures from the general fund that we’ll have to pay for,” she said, mentioning libraries, parks and public safety services as examples. “I’m just really concerned about the precedent this sets.” Council Member Leslie Pool countered that the city’s hands would not be permanently tied by the measure and that Council could shift the allocation of funds if necessary during its annual budget process.

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