The Austin City Council on Friday approved a $925 million bond issue — more than 44 percent higher than what city staff recommended, due mostly to an affordable housing package far larger than any the city has attempted.
The $250 million housing component still isn’t as much as supporters had asked for, and experts say it’s not likely to make a sizeable dent in the city’s affordable housing shortage. But it’s also four times the size of any affordable housing effort Austin has ever attempted.
If approved by voters on Nov. 6, the package would require a tax hike from 44.48 cents to 46.48 cents per $100 of property value. That translates to an additional $60 a year in taxes, for example, for the owner of a $300,000 home. Austin’s property tax rate is considered one of the highest among major Texas cities.
Conservative council member Ellen Troxclair, who is on maternity leave, came to city hall long enough to cast one of three votes against the package. She called it a “strategic mistake” to pass a bond package that requires a tax hike and also criticized the move to increase the affordable housing piece by reducing the total to be spent on roads and transportation.
“The message that’s not seeming to get through is that the more bonds we pass and the higher we raise taxes, the more people can’t afford to stay in the homes they have,” Troxclair said.
Even some of those who voted for the package weren’t completely comfortable with it.
Alison Alter voted for it but questioned whether it would have been wiser for the city to build up to such a large affordable housing effort by starting smaller. Voters did approve a smaller housing package — $65 million — in November 2013.
Council member Jimmy Flannigan, while voting for the bond package, objected to moving millions of dollars around from priority to priority on the night of the vote.
“I don’t see how this aligns with the strategic planning process,” he said.
As The Texas Monitor reported in April, experts say that approval of even a record bond amount will make little impact on what the city describes as a shortage of 60,000 affordable housing units. The city hasn’t come close to meeting the goals set out in its Strategic Housing Blueprint.
In addition to the housing package, the council approved asking voters to borrow:
- $184 million for flood mitigation
- $160 million for transportation projects
- $149 million for parks
- $128 million for libraries and cultural centers
- $38 million for public safety
- $16 million for health and human services programs
With Friday’s vote, progressive council members Greg Casar, Delia Garza and Pio Renteria made good on their promise in April to go big on affordable housing. The group had originally asked for $300 million. More than a dozen speakers, most of them wearing the rose-emblazoned T-shirts of the Austin Democratic Socialists of America, implored the council to add that full amount to the bond issue.
Casar called it “the most important investment the city has ever made in confronting the housing crisis head on.”
Mayor Steve Adler said he was proud to support a “bond that reflects our values as a community. Doubling down on equity is a response to where the community is right now.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].