KUT/ Austin NPR July 28, 2022 (ft João Paulo Connolly, Organizing Director)

Austin City Council votes to put $350 million affordable housing bond on November ballot

KUT 90.5 | By Skye Seipp
Published July 28, 2022 at 4:35 PM CDT

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As Austinites see a sharp rise in the cost of living, voters could have the chance to vote on a $350 million bond for affordable housing this November.

City Council members approved a measure Thursday directing the city manager and city clerk to craft language for a ballot proposition. Council members will vote on it next month. The bond would be the largest in Austin’s history. If the measure passes, the money would go toward building affordable housing, repairing homes for low-income people and acquiring more land for homes.

Austinites will also be voting for mayor in the election.

Advocates say the bond is crucial for low-income residents and people experiencing homelessness to live in the city.

“It’s obvious to everyone that we’re in the middle of a housing crisis,” said João Paulo Connolly, a community organizer with the Austin Justice Coalition. “If we want Austin to be an inclusive city where working-class people, low-income people and people from all walks of life have a chance to live and thrive, then we need this bond in order to continue building deeply affordable housing.”

The owner of an average home, which is defined as one valued at about $448,000, would pay about $46.60 extra in property taxes annually if voters approve the bond.

Austinites voted for a $250 million housing bond four years ago. By the end of this fiscal year, 90% of that money will be spent.Austin has built about 6,000 affordable homes using bond money, including nearly 800 for people transitioning out of homelessness.

The bond would also pay for home repairs for low-income residents such as senior citizens.

Average rents in Austin rose by nearly 20% in 2021, with the average one-bedroom now costing about $1,700 a month.

The proposed bond initially was for $300 million, but an amendment by Council Member Ann Kitchen increased it by $50 millionat a cost to average homeowners of about $6 more a year.

“The return on our housing bond dollars is multiple-fold, and so to address our crisis in housing, I think we need to go as big as we can,” Kitchen said at Thursday’s meeting, “and I think $350 million would be an appropriate amount.”

Council voted 8-1-1 for the measure, with council member Mackenzie Kelly voting against and Mayor Pro-Tem Alison Alter abstaining from the vote. Council Member Vanessa Fuentes was not present.

Matt Mackowiak, co-founder of the political action committee Save Austin Now, said his organization plans to oppose the bond. The group successfully pushed for Austinites to reinstate the public camping ban in May 2021, but failed to persuade voters to approve a resolution to hire more police officers in November.

Mackowiak said a better solution is to streamline the housing development process and cut costs to make it easier to build more houses. In the first months of this year, Austin builders started a record number of homes, but supply-chain issues and labor shortages have made finishing the houses difficult.

“We need to make Austin affordable for everyone, not for a small number of people who benefit from this subsidy,” Mackowiak said. “We just gotta make it easier to build housing in that starter home, middle class and working class category, and so adding another $300 to $350 million to the tax-payer burden is not the right answer right now.”

Corrected: July 29, 2022 at 12:22 PM CDT
A previous version of this story said City Council voted to put a bond proposition on the ballot. Members voted to direct the city manager and clerk to craft language for a proposition. Council must still vote on that.