Prop 15 Loss Leaves Groups Scrambling
Nonprofits that help people in Austin get into housing are scrambling to come up with a plan B after Tuesday’s election. They were expecting Austinites to pass Proposition 15, which called for $78 million to build affordable homes and maintain existing ones. They never expected plan A to fail at the polls.
Towbridge Road off 51st Street in East Austin is part of a community where many of the homes were built by Habitat for Humanity, the non-profit organization that provides low interest mortgages to people who, in exchange, work for 150 hours building the houses of others.
Volunteers are nailing a new white door frame to a baby blue house while Roxanne White paints the walls inside. Every brush stroke brings her closer to the day when she’ll be painting the house she will call her own.
“Today is No. 2; today, I’ll have another four hours, so I think that gives me a total of 20,” White said.
It will take months before White completes her 130 remaining hours. Kelly Weiss, head of the Austin chapter of Habitat for Humanity, says it will take even longer for Habitat to come up the money it hoped to get from Proposition 15.
Weiss expected between $1.5 million and $2.5 million each year. She says the money would have helped buy lots for new homes.
“Traditionally, Habitat started buying infill lots on the East Side very close to downtown, just across I-35, at a time when, 20 years ago, those lots were $1,500,” Weiss said. “Today those same lots are $150,000 to $250,000, making building in the urban core impossible.”
Liz Mueller, who teaches community regional planning and social work at UT Austin, says the proposition may have failed because many people still confuse affordable housing with public housing and think it’s often poorly maintained and breeding grounds for crime.
“That, I think, is part of the perception of what this is, and it’s actually something different, because if you have something that’s got public funding, there’s accountability there,” Mueller said. “People are going to watch what happens to it.”
Now, Mueller said, housing nonprofits may turn to private foundations for funding. But that’s an unreliable and often unsustainable source of income. Meanwhile, the demand for affordable housing continue to grow: About 100 new people move into Austin every week.