With nod to housing needs, City Council passes $925M bond package


Highlights

Package includes $250 million for affordable housing, a record-setting figure for a city bond election.

Council Member Ora Houston had called for a more conservative package, citing concerns about tax increases.

A record-setting $250 million affordable housing bond likely will go before Austin voters in November as city officials try to address what’s seen as a deepening housing crisis.

The $250 million proposal would more than double the combined total of housing bonds that Austin voters have approved in the past. The ambitious effort comes as part of a $925 million bond package the City Council approved Thursday night.

“This is a historic level of funding for housing, and it is time to have that conversation with the community,” said Council Member Ann Kitchen, who proposed the $925 million bond package. “I hope the community is ready, and I think the community is ready. We need to ask the community to vote for this (housing bond). This is such a critical need.”

The vote, taken just shy of 11 p.m. Thursday, was 8-3, with Council Members Ellen Troxclair, Ora Houston and Jimmy Flannigan opposed.

The bond is expected to come before council members again on Aug. 9, when they could make more specific decisions regarding projects funded by the bond. The deadline for setting ballot language arrives Aug. 20.

The approved bond funding categories set forth Thursday night are:

• Affordable housing, $250 million.

• Flood mitigation and open space, $184 million.

• Transportation, $160 million.

• Parks facilities, $149 million.

• Libraries and cultural centers, $128 million.

• Public safety, $38 million.

• Health and human services, $16 million.

Before the vote, Houston called for a more conservative package totaling $647.5 million, an amount that would have increased property tax rates about 1 cent. In her district in North and East Austin, Houston said, she has heard trepidation about tax increases.

“There are many people that are not here (at City Hall) and were unable to come here and talk about what the tax implications are to their lives,” Houston said.

Troxclair, whose district is in Southwest Austin, echoed some of Houston’s comments.

“The council it is making a strategic mistake in putting $250 (million) toward affordable housing and cutting street reconstruction when we all know that consistently the No. 1 or 2 thing that people care about is roads and infrastructure,” Troxclair said. “I know it is going to have a tough time in my district because of that alone. So I guess just a word of caution on that.”

Though nothing will be set in stone until Aug. 20, that did not stop council members from discussing certain projects that they are making their pet causes.

Council Member Delia Garza asked for assurances that renovation and an expansion of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center would receive full funding under the proposed bond’s $56.5 million for cultural centers. The project’s total cost falls between $20 million to $40 million, according to the site’s master plan. City staffers will be ironing out an exact number before the bond comes before the council again for final approval, likely on Aug. 9.

Some early horse trading also took place, with Council Member Kathie Tovo landing $3 million to renovate the Faulk Central Library — possibly making it an archival space — and $2 million for the Asian American Resource Center by trimming $2 million of unspecified funding from the transportation part of the bond and reallocating $3 million from the acquisition of property for “creative spaces.”

To most of the audience, though, the marquee issue remained the affordable housing slice of the bond. Numerous members of the Austin chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America wore stickers and held signs with the number “300” on them as an indication of their support for a $300 million housing bond.

“It is a fundamental prerequisite for justice,” said Seneca Savoie, a member of the group who spoke in favor of a $300 million housing bond. “What Austin looks like in composition, in architecture, in health and crime will be the consequence for the next century based on how you vote today. We urge you to vote for justice.”

Despite the final $250 million figure for affordable housing falling short of their stated goal, the members of Democratic Socialists of America clapped after the council voted.



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