Austin is one of the most socially conscious cities in America, and we have one of the fastest-growing economies in the nation. However, peer cities like Denver, San Antonio, San Francisco and Seattle all invest more in health and human services. We believe Austin has a unique opportunity to create something truly special — a city that continues to generate wealth and addresses poverty in a meaningful way.
One of our priorities as the One Voice Central Texas coalition is to help make Austin more affordable for people in poverty while also providing opportunities to thrive economically. To accomplish this, our current city council must commit to balancing housing affordability and the funding of critical services that impact our most vulnerable residents. We cannot have one without the other and continue to prosper as a city.
We appreciate this city council’s work to develop a comprehensive, tiered initiative that helps people at all socioeconomic levels — one that provides relief for homeowners and low-income households who are not homeowners alike. We also appreciate the strong commitment Mayor Steve Adler and other council members made during the June 4 council meeting to ensure next year’s 6 percent property tax cut does not negatively impact city-funded social services. We also support the council’s investment in the Renters Assistance Fund.
Nonetheless, the members of One Voice Central Texas are concerned about the long-term impact that the homestead exemption property tax cut could have on low-income families; especially since the council has formally expressed its intent to increase the homestead exemption to the full 20 percent over the next four years.
To offset any potential negative impact to low-income individuals, One Voice encourages the city council to truly address the affordability gap by supporting a 10 percent funding increase for Health and Human Services in fiscal year 2016. This would ensure that homeowner tax cuts do not come at the expense of struggling households that depend on services provided through this funding.
In the long term, One Voice also supports two additional actions:
- The city’s annual budget process incorporates an annual increase to social services and workforce development that is equal to or greater than the increase in the Consumer Price Index and incrementally increases with the city’s population growth.
- The city manager develops a plan to invest in additional funding for social service contracts and funding for the Health and Human Services Department over the next 3-5 years.
Study after study shows that investing in social services saves the community money in both the short term and long term by improving overall health, ensuring that the most vulnerable people have access to basic needs, and preparing the nation’s workforce.
One Voice believes the current council can demonstrate its leadership by identifying strategies to both implement tax cuts and remain committed to not cutting city-funded health and human services. Working to make Austin affordable for everyone while continuing investments in social services to help people out of poverty is the kind of comprehensive approach One Voice wholeheartedly supports.
There isn’t another city in America that could make progress in both arenas today like we can. We agree with Adler when he says he believes Austin is a “magical place.” Let’s come together to make sure it’s magical for all who call Austin home.
Marvin is the board chairman of One Voice Central Texas, which is a coalition of 85 nonprofit health and human service organizations.