With Alter’s swing vote, Austin council shelves affordability plan

5:33 p.m Thursday, March 2, 2017 Local
Council Member Alison Alter said the proposed affordability plan “just (isn’t) there yet.”

Austin City Council Member Alison Alter cast the deciding vote Thursday to shelve an affordability action plan championed by Council Member Ellen Troxclair and four of her colleagues, including the mayor.

The council voted 6-5 to indefinitely postpone the plan, which originated with a push from the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of business and nonprofit organizations.

Several of those organizations spoke in favor of the plan Thursday, while others, including representatives from Austin Interfaith and a worker’s defense group, said they didn’t feel represented.

The plan would have created an affordability manifesto that included recommendations to aggressively build more housing, consider a budget option keeping property taxes flat and approve an already-started reform of the city’s permitting process, economic development policy and land development code.

Council members who opposed the plan expressed concerns about imposing budget constraints on themselves. They also pointed out that the plan included many initiatives the council had already put in place.

WATCH: Council members explain their votes on the plan

While several of the council members supporting indefinite postponement weren’t against revisiting the plan sometime in the future, Troxclair said she felt normally such a postponement is taken “because we want it to go away and die and we don’t want to have to deal with it again.”

“I wish that I could think of a less drastic way to say it, but I think that it (indefinite postponement) would be a slap in the face to the community organizations who have … had all these discussions to support this,” Troxclair said.

The plan’s failure ultimately came down to Alter’s vote after Council Members Delia Garza, Leslie Pool, Kathie Tovo, Greg Casar and Sabino “Pio” Renteria voiced opposition.

Alter said she was unclear on what the plan would accomplish and needed more time to go over it before she could support it.

“I think we need to move from planning to action,” Alter said. “I’m not exactly sure that this resolution as it stands gets us to action. I’m a little concerned that it’s just more planning.”

Garza made the motion Thursday to postpone the item indefinitely. She echoed the concerns she raised at Tuesday’s work session that even drafting a budget at the effective tax rate, which would entail no increase in the bill for taxpayers, was an unrealistic exercise.

“I wish I could promise my constituents that I will never have to raise your taxes, but the reality is we have so many needs,” Garza said. “If we want to pass a budget at the effective tax rate, there are very big things that couldn’t happen.”

Pool said her main concern was the possibility for the plan to give the impression that the council had not been proactive about the issue. Several council members argued they have taken numerous steps to address affordability, from asking for more affordable housing units from developers to approving social service funding that helps families in need.

“Unfortunately, the perception in our community is that we haven’t been doing things, and I think that that is what troubles me the very most about this whole process,” Pool said. “I really wish this hadn’t come to us in this form.”

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