It was supposed to be a speech about housing and affordability, but then the world intervened.
With reports streaming in from around the country about permanent residents and refugees being blocked from entering the country and held in limbo at airports, Mayor Steve Adler used his State of the City speech to roundly condemn President Donald Trump’s recent immigration orders.
“Immigrants are part of who we are and who we have always been,” Adler told the packed City Council Chambers at City Hall on Saturday evening. “It is part of why our community and our country are as strong as they are.”
Last year, he said, the city had taken 600 refugees from Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Austin was supposed to take as many this year, he said, at least until the president’s Friday executive order, which banned new Syrian refugees from entering the country and temporarily suspended admission of those from Iran, Iraq and several other majority Muslim nations.
Most of the refugees are women and children; the men, Adler added, had accompanied their families from their impoverished or war-torn nations, seeking a better life.
“No legislature and no election can change who we are and the values that, as a community, we hold dear,” Adler said, to mass applause. “The world can completely lose its mind and we’re still going to be Austin, Texas.”
Adler’s remarks, coming at the end of his roughly 80-minute speech, were a dramatic departure from his prepared text.
In those remarks, Adler declared 2017 as the year City Hall would focus its attentions on the city’s affordable housing crisis. He also laid down an ambitious marker: Austin will need to build at least 135,000 homes and apartment units over the next decade to meet the housing demand and ease the pressures of gentrification.
“For too long, we’ve treated housing like a game of musical chairs,” Adler said. “When the music stops, too many people are vying for too few seats at the table, too few houses or apartments.”
Failure to meet the 135,000-unit goal, he said, will result in Austin becoming the next San Francisco: a tech-wealthy city where just about everyone else struggles or is forced to the suburbs.
To help speed development in the city, Adler pointed to efforts to reform and expedite its permitting process as well as the pending overhaul of the city’s land-use regulations, known as CodeNext. The first draft of the revamped code will be made public this week.
Adler laid out what he called the “Austin Bargain,” which — while light on details — would aim to protect the cores of neighborhoods while focusing density along major street corridors such as Lamar and Airport Boulevards, as well as major “activity centers” such as the Domain, the Mueller development and downtown.
The mayor took some time to claim some victories from the previous year: the passage of the city’s $720 million transportation bond in November; the effort to end veteran homelessness, and the reduction of electric bills by $42 million.
He also voiced support for Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez and her decision to require federal immigration officials to obtain warrants before detaining individuals for immigration violations. That has Gov. Greg Abbott pushing to remove her from office, but it won her a standing ovation from the crowd at City Hall on Saturday.
This story was updated to remove Afghanistan from the among the list of countries affected by the president’s executive order on immigration.