For Austin voters this November, it could be go big or go home on a city bond proposition for affordable housing.
A volunteer task force has recommended the city put the largest affordable housing bond proposition ever on that ballot at a $161 million price tag.
But Tuesday, two council members signaled their willingness to go deeper by increasing the housing bonds to $300 million or more.
Council Members Greg Casar and Sabino “Pio” Renteria both indicated their desire for at least $300 million during a presentation at City Hall by a member of the 2018 bond task force.
“I am really excited about this,” Renteria said. “You have my total support for $300 million, if not more.”
Kaz Wojtewicz, a board member from the pro-housing density nonprofit AURA, said recent affordable housing bonds passed in large West Coast cities showed voters there were willing to support bonds much larger than the recommendation presented Tuesday.
They included a $1.2 billion housing bond plan passed by Los Angeles; a $258 million proposal passed in Portland, Ore.; and a $290 million plan passed in Seattle. All were approved in 2016 with at least 62 percent of the vote. Wojtewicz recommended Austin officials reach for $300 million. Renteria agreed.
“I would like to have a conversation with the community as well as my colleagues about going for a larger amount,” Casar said. “Us doing something significant is very important.”
But the question remains whether the city would be able to spend $300 million on affordable housing over the five-year planned rollout of the bond. The federal low-income housing credits used to jump-start many of these projects are limited, and winning them can be a highly competitive process.
“While our (affordable housing) need is huge, if you handed me a bucket of cash — a billion dollars — I could not deploy that in … five years,” said Mandy De Mayo, the city’s community development administrator.
Rachel Stone, the bond task force member who gave the presentation Tuesday, said the recommendation did not set any figures in stone. She said the task force had heard community support for a $300 million bond proposal, but the group picked a more conservative figure.
The task force recommendation of $161 million in affordable housing bonds sets aside $75 million to subsidize the construction of affordable housing units, $50 million to buy land for affordable housing, $18 million for critical repairs for low-income homeowners and $18 million to assist low- to moderate-income families in buying permanent housing.
In 2013, Austin voters approved a $65 million affordable housing bond plan. A year earlier, voters rejected a similar $78 million bond proposition.