Complaints we hear citywide about affordability are magnified in Austin’s District 2.
The southeast district has some of the lowest-income residents, with a median family income of $42,650. The district also boasts the largest Hispanic population – a point of pride for current council member Delia Garza, Austin’s first Latina local representative.
In her 2016 reelection bid, Garza faces opposition from two. To better inform voters, we thought we’d focus on three of the big issues of the last year-and-a-half of Austin’s first 10-1 council. We asked non-incumbents how they would have voted on these major issues. Then we added one more category: a pet project for incumbents, and for non-incumbents, what they’d like to focus on. It’s all part of a series we’re calling, “More Than a Yard Sign.”
Ramos is a professional boxer finishing up his bachelor’s degree at St. Edward’s University.
Born and raised in Dove Springs, Ramos used to teach local kids boxing.
“The bonds were not evenly distributed around the city of Austin,” said Ramos at a recent forum hosted by KUT and the Austin Monitor. Ramos said council overlooked big arteries in Austin’s southeast district, like Stassney Lane and William Cannon Drive (the latter was later added to the list of bond corridors).
“I would have definitely liked to keep Uber and Lyft,” said Ramos. While he said he supports drivers getting fingerprinted – “It’s important,” he said. “You need to get fingerprinted." -- he said he would have liked to broker a compromise to avoid a shut down of the companies’ local operation.
Ramos says he would support a 20 percent homestead exemption. Council recently passed a two percent increase, bringing the city’s homestead exemption to eight percent.
“We’re living above our means,” Casey said at last week’s forum. “Some peoples’ houses are priced at three times what they paid for it.”
Ramos has said he’d like to ebb “unbridled” development in the area, and would support the construction of more affordable housing in District 2.
Wesley Faulkner's resume reads like a tour of Austin's tech industry, with posts at Dell and Atlassian.
A first-generation American (his parents are from Haiti and Antigua), Faulkner currently works as a social media manager at domain name registrar Namecheap.
“It doesn’t say how much traffic it’ll improve, the way it was laid out,” said Faulkner at a recent forum. “The way it was railroaded through and pushed through really quickly, I don’t think on balance it’s a good plan.”
“I’m for economic diversity,” said Faulkner. “I think one good thing about TNCs is that they give people who did not have access to start their own business an avenue that’s clear and defined where they can just hop in and start making money for themselves.”
Faulkner said at the D2 forum that he’d support a 20 percent homestead exemption act if it could be a tiered tax break based on property value. But, as Faulkner acknowledged, that’s currently against state law. So, as it stands, he would vote no -- and search for other city revenue options. "I think we need to explore alternative revenues for the city so that we aren't just turning the tax knob," he said.
“There aren’t many knowledge-worker jobs in our area,” said Faulkner, adding he wants to incentivize more businesses to come to the district. “I want to make sure that Austin embraces District 2, and District 2 is for everyone and not just going through on the way to the airport.”
A former Austin firefighter and assistant attorney general, incumbent Delia Garza won her first election in 2014 handily, garnering nearly 66 percent of the vote among the field of four candidates.
Garza voted no on an initial vote, but in the final hour she decided to abstain from voting on Mayor Steve Adler's $720 million transportation bond. Garza said she felt the bond planning had not been inclusive enough and had happened too quickly.
Garza was one of the biggest proponents of requiring ride-hailing drivers to be fingerprinted, hailing it as a foolproof way to ensure a potential drier's identity. “You could have the most comprehensive background check known to man, but if you’re not background checking the right person, then it’s worthless,” Garza said. The ultimate of that fight was the May election on the issue, where voters rejected Prop 1. Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft shut down local operations that Monday.
“It’s a regressive tax that helps the wealthiest in our community,” said Garza at a recent forum, reiterating what she said on the dais when she voted against the measure. Because the homestead exemption is percentage-based, she argued, “the savings to the people of District 2 is minimal.”
Garza has sponsored several items to ease burdens on low-income residents. Last month, she brought forth a measure ensuring alternatives to jail for residents who cannot pay misdemeanor fines.
Back in April, she crafted an item asking the city manager to look into using 2013 bond money for permanent affordable housing.
If you'd like to listen to last week's KUT and Austin Monitor-hosted forum, check out the full audio below:
This story is part of KUT's reporting partnership with the Austin Monitor.