There’s wide recognition among Austin political and business leaders that affordability is one of the city’s Achilles heels – but there’s less consensus about how to tackle the problem, as evidenced by a recent vote by the Austin City Council to postpone an affordability action plan.
The council voted narrowly – 6-5 – to shelve the plan indefinitely, after detractors said the plan included initiatives the City is already taking, and didn’t include enough input by key stakeholders who represent vulnerable, middle class community members.
“Austin Interfaith wasn’t at the table, several labor organizations weren’t at the table…and to my knowledge there were no neighborhood groups at the table,” said Delia Garza, the District 2 councilmember. “These represent our most vulnerable, middle class families. And to have those families not at the table for an action plan to address affordability, I just don’t think it’s ready.”
The action plan came about as part of a push from 10 business and nonprofit organizations, including the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Real Estate Council of Austin, as well as the Austin Chamber of Commerce. That coalition asked the Council to consider a 13-point affordability agenda that included an effective tax rate. That would mean homeowners and businesses wouldn’t see increased tax bills in 2018. It would also mean a big cut in City revenue, although new construction would bring in tax revenue. The coalition proposed that $7 million of the new revenue that does come into the City go to job training and social services.
“I wish I could promise my constituents that I’ll never have to raise your taxes. But the reality is, we have so many needs,” Garza said of that proposal.
The agenda also includes calls to increase housing, adopt the CodeNEXT rewrite of land use ordinances, support workforce training, and improve the permitting process so that affordable housing could be built more quickly.
Councilmembers pointed out that even without an action plan, they are already tackling many of the points in the proposed plan, including CodeNEXT, adopting child care funding, and pushing developers to include more affordable housing in new developments.
“Given the size and the scope of all of these things, I don’t see where we’re telling staff to go,” said Alison Alter, District 10 councilmember, and the deciding “no” vote.