You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

City Council must continue to address Austin’s affordability crisis


The issue of affordability is as central to November’s Austin City Council election races as it was two years ago, when Austin inaugurated its new 10-1 governing system. The majority of the then-newly elected council members entered office without any previous political experience. Yet the mayor and 10 council members have taken head on a barrage of issues, including one of the most challenging facing Austinites: affordability.

Now, five of those 10 council seats – Districts 2, 4, 6, 7 and 10 — are up for re-election. In order to continue momentum current council members have made on affordability, the individuals who take these seats must be prepared to build on those efforts and bring new ideas to the table. As it stands, Austin’s cost of living and particularly housing costs are pricing people out of the city.

That will require an understanding that several issues contribute to Austin’s affordability — taking into consideration that more than half of a typical family’s budget goes directly to child care, transportation and housing. None become more urgent and prevalent to residents than the city’s dwindling affordable housing stock. The depletion of inexpensive units, of course, affects most severely the working-class and low-income families.

READ A Q&A WITH THE CANDIDATES FOR AUSTIN CITY COUNCIL DISTRICTS 2 AND 4

Austin, which once had a reputation of welcoming all with its keep it weird” motto, has quickly become more exclusive than inclusive as one of the most — if not the most — expensive Texas cities in which to live, according to a handful of studies.

Yet, Austin’s high cost of living isn’t the only problem. We can’t forget that no large metro area in the country is more economically segregated than Austin, according to a Martin Prosperity Institute report published in 2015.

While inequality isn’t new to Austin or anywhere else, the question of housing affordability has become more intense in this city, in particular in districts in East Austin like Council Member Ora Houston’s District 1 and Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria’s District 3. Those districts aren’t up for re-election.

However, two districts that will be on ballots and are undergoing economic shifts are District 2, represented by Delia Garza, and District 4, represented by Greg Casar. Garza is a lawyer and former Austin firefighter. Casar is former policy director at Workers Defense Project.

The stakes are high for those districts as they are among the last remaining areas in Austin with neighborhoods that still offer affordable housing.

In District 2, Garza faces Wesley Faulkner, a social media manager, and Casey Ramos, a local boxer. In District 4, Casar is vying with civil engineer Louis Herrin and transit engineer Gonzalo Camacho.

Current leadership — from the mayor on downward — has rolled up its sleeves and done a fair share of heavy lifting to adequately address affordability. For example, Renteria’s tenant relocation ordinance — co-sponsored by Casar and Garza — requires developers that displace tenants by demolishing or renovating multi-family properties to provide six months’ notice and in certain cases in which developers are seeking rezoning of properties provide relocation funds.

It’s worth noting the initiative by Mayor Steve Adler and Garza to provide 1,000 permanent affordable homes in the Easton Park project in Southeast Austin’s Pilot Knob. It’s the kind of approach to the housing crisis that would yield large-scale affordable homes that will stay affordable in perpetuity. There are some legal issues that still must be resolved, but it’s the kind of solution that is needed to deal with Austin’s housing crisis.

Herrin and Faulkner say that finding solutions to transportation and generating more jobs are a vital part of addressing affordability. They are right. Ramos and Camacho did not provide information on their positions to the editorial board.

Still, there’s much work ahead.

In our view, a 20 percent homestead exemption must be a part of the solution, and a majority of the council has wisely chosen to phase that in over several years.

Garza and Casar voted against the measure, saying it does more for the rich than for the poor and doesn’t help renters, who make up a large portion of their districts. As we’ve said before, a meaningful homestead exemption acknowledges the struggle of homeowners across Austin whose incomes have remained relatively flat while their home values and property taxes have skyrocketed in the city’s hot housing market. Both Garza and Casar have many homeowners in their districts.

There are many pieces to solving the affordability puzzle.

Voters should look carefully at which candidates will best address the employment, transportation and housing needs of District 2 and 4 residents with an eye on stabilizing trends that threaten many working- and lower-income families who reside in those districts.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Commentary: Austin tree ordinance violates private property rights
Commentary: Austin tree ordinance violates private property rights

Trees are timber — a natural resource that belongs to private property owners in the same way as a backyard garden. It would be absurd to require a government permit to harvest your peppers and potatoes — yet many Texas cities strictly regulate trees on your land. Overregulation of landowners and their ability to trim and remove tress is...
Letters to the editor: March 27, 2017
Letters to the editor: March 27, 2017

Re: March 13 commentary, “Legalizing drug importation harms Texas’ patients, economy.” The viewpoint expressed by Thomas R. Kowalski citing imports harming local economy is exactly correct. In fact, the exact situation has already occurred — not in the drug manufacturing industry but in the American automobile manufacturing...
We’re against emotionalism, except when we’re not

Conservatives have rightly taken pride in Neil Gorsuch’s calm and cerebral performance at his Senate confirmation hearings. Many commentators, along with Republican senators, have mocked Democrats for presuming to evaluate Gorsuch based on the outcomes of his cases. Did he “side with the little guy” or with big corporations? The right...
Commentary: Tree ordinances are best left to city governments
Commentary: Tree ordinances are best left to city governments

Once again, the Legislature is taking aim at cities — and tree protection ordinances sit squarely in their crosshairs. The value of trees and urban forests is unquestionable. There are very real economic, environmental and psychological benefits that trees provide for our communities and their residents. Studies have demonstrated that the presence...
GOP replacement for Obamacare would leave Americans, Texans stranded
GOP replacement for Obamacare would leave Americans, Texans stranded

The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, has flaws. That much is clear. Instead of fixing and improving it so Obamacare continues to be sustainable going forward, Republicans led by House Speaker Paul Ryan are proposing to replace it with a measure that would further break the nation’s health care system. Interestingly, the GOP plan has been attacked...
More Stories