City leaders are weighing the possibility of putting an affordable housing bond on the ballot this November. A city task force is recommending a $161 million bond, but some Austin City Council members want to almost double that amount.
Council Members Pio Renteria, Delia Garza and Greg Casar are promoting what they call the Housing Justice Agenda, a set of new policies that support affordable housing, including a $300 million affordable housing bond proposal. Council Member Casar said Austin needs to make a significant investment in new housing.
“Our current city staff plans show us developing 1,900 units of affordable housing with a smaller bond,” he said, “and I think that we need to be much bolder and go from a 1,900 affordable-unit bond to something that can hopefully develop 7,000 or 8,000 affordable homes.”
At a council committee meeting last week, the chairwoman of the city’s affordable housing bond working group explained the reasoning behind the group's recommendation for the smaller $161 million bond.
“We put together this recommendation after meeting with lots of people from the community and all of the different affordable housing providers in town,” Rachel Stone said. “We were focused on a lack of affordability all over town, especially west of 35.”
The bond money would go toward rental assistance and home repairs and buying land to use for affordable housing. Stone said the recommendation for a smaller bond was “fear-based”: There are concerns Austin voters would reject a much larger proposal.
Casar said the bond package needs to be “bold and careful.” On its own, he said, a $300 million housing bond would not require the city to raise property taxes, but coupled with other bond proposals that are on the table – including parkland and transportation – voters may have to decide on a modest increase.
“I see a lot of energy in the community, especially after this year’s primaries, around investing together to make our community a stronger place,” Casar said, “and I think that this year, there can be a coalition of voters that care about parks, that care about addressing flooding, and that care enough about addressing the housing crisis that we can pass a much larger bond than we ever have before.”
Whatever ends up on the ballot, many supporters say an influx of public money is needed to move the needle on affordable housing.
“We’re all in this and dedicated to supporting the winning bond package, whatever that number might be,” said Greg Anderson, director of operations at Austin Habitat for Humanity, which has joined the Keep Austin Affordable campaign in support of a housing bond. “[We] haven’t quite landed on what the best number is, but we’re all working with community leaders and different organizations to try and do so.”