We keep hearing that Austin is a prosperous city. Parts of Austin are prosperous. There are other parts, however, that are not. For Austin to actually be prosperous we must have quality education, workforce housing, jobs where people live, and we must improve the quality of health of our citizens. 


A leader listens to concerns about…

High Property Taxes

 

The history of Austin tells us that we are living through the second time Americans of African descent have been displaced from the land. The first time occurred with the passage by the City Council of the 1928 Comprehensive Plan. Current displacement is caused by land speculation and development in east and northeast Austin causing skyrocketing land values and exorbitant property taxes. 

People in District 1 who are elderly and/or on fixed incomes, and families with limited resources, find it difficult to remain in the homes that have been in their families for years, if not generations. Even with homestead and over-65 exemptions, it is difficult. There is no way to pass generational wealth traditionally found in the value of the land to the next generation.    

The process to protest property valuation is not easy to understand. It can be intimidating. 

The city of Austin is the center of government—local, County and State. And all of that property is off the tax rolls. Additionally, universities and places of worship are also off the tax rolls limiting who actually pays property taxes. 

About 20 years ago, a group of well-meaning people determined that growth was necessary to enhance the quality of life in Austin, and increase and diversify the economic base. The notion was to encourage new businesses, different enterprises, and new people to locate to Austin. A vision was crafted, policies and procedures were developed, drafted and enacted to grow Austin—east of East Avenue. 

The “urban core” was expanded to include “historic East Austin” in the economic development zone. 

The positive side to this vision is that infrastructure in historic East Austin was upgraded to include new sidewalks, more efficient utility connections, creative businesses and a few bus stops that are covered and have lights and seats. And after many years, Bartholomew District Park was reopened at the insistence of the neighborhood.

The negative side of the vision is that people who created the foundation of the city with their property taxes—people who lived, worked, played and worshiped on this land since the formation of the city with few, if any, city services—have been and continue to be displaced.    

After listening, a leader works to…

  • Collaborate with Travis County delegations to close loopholes in state regulations which favor some entities and disadvantage others. The growth industry should pay its fair share;
  • Protect historic members of the community who live in their homes through a homestead exemption for long-term, owner-occupied homes;
  • Ensure that a return on our property tax investment is seen in the public schools in District 1. (Quality education is a priority!);
  • Ensure property tax waivers and subsidies are focused on the development of employment opportunities located in District 1;
  • Address health care disparities that exist in the city and ensure that the portion of property taxes paid to the Central Health District benefits people who live in District 1.

 

A leader listens to concerns about…

Jobs/Employment

The City of Austin has been successful in identifying high-tech companies as central to the city’s economic development strategy. However, many people who live in District 1 are transit dependent or would like to use public transit to go to work. The new jobs are not easily accessible to potential workers who live in the district. There are also people who would be excited to fill a position if they could receive the training necessary for them to perform the task. 

The unemployment/under-employment rate is in the double-digits in parts of District 1. The poverty rate is about 25%. A priority for the city must be to assist people in becoming part of the workforce and becoming self-sufficient. 

After listening, a leader works to…

  • Have meaningful, thoughtful conversations to identify creative strategies to address unemployment and poverty in a holistic manner;
  • Cross jurisdictional lines in order to foster more creative relationships between city, county, state and non-profit partners;
  • Have conversations at the city level about where employment opportunities and jobs are located in the future;
  • Have conversations about clean energy start-ups to begin training people in the district to develop the skills to work in that growing industry;
  • Be intentional about the creation of and access to jobs for people re-entering our district from the criminal justice system; 
  • Be intentional about the creation of economic development zones in District 1; 
  • Be intentional about the development and expansion of public transit to serve those locations.

A leader listens to concerns about…

Transportation/Congestion

Transportation is the linchpin to a connected, well-operated community. Many creative, hard-working, diligent people—including city employees and people who work in the service industry—live in or are moving to District 1. However, the focus on public transportation continues to be on North-South rather than East-West routes.

The growth in Austin is downtown and locations east and northeast of downtown. The North-South orientation makes it difficult for people who live in District 1—or the increasing numbers of people living on the edges and just beyond Austin—to move efficiently, effectively and conveniently throughout and around the city. Transit options must also provide a circular system of connectivity and routes that connect far northern parts of the district to other parts of the city. 

The focus must be shifted to getting people into the Central Business District rather than moving through the district. By making that shift, traffic congestion will be mitigated. More than half of the people who live in District 1 oppose the development of Urban Rail as it is currently proposed. 

After listening, a leader works to…

  • Make it easier and more appealing for people to leave their cars at home and use public transportation;
  • Exercise smart planning regarding the management of traffic flow within the district so that proposed changes will not cause congestion;
  • Accommodate growth by extending public transit routes to keep up with that growth; 
  • Appoint people to the board of Capital Metro who are knowledgeable about public transportation and actually use the city’s transit system. 

 A leader listens to concerns about…

Workforce Housing

We have heard a lot of references to “affordable housing.” The concept of “affordable housing” has a specific federal definition: 80 percent of the median family income for the area. In the Austin region, 80 percent median family income is about $80,000 for a family of four. The median income in District 1 is about $42,000. It is important to ask what is meant by “affordability” and “affordable housing.”

“Workforce housing” is a clearer description of the housing options people and families with children are seeking. It is for the people who make the city run—people who are city employees, people who provide personal services such as cutting our hair. It is for those in the service industry, the hospitality industry. Those who cook the food we eat and clean the rooms we use. Teachers who educate our children. The people who work for a living but can’t afford to live close to where they work. People who have been and continue to be pushed to the edges of the city and beyond where there are limited amenities, lack of healthcare, lack of full-service groceries, and limited or no public transportation.  

 

After listening, a leader works to…

  • Ensure that the people who keep this city running like a well-oiled machine are able to live in close proximity to where they work;
  • Ensure that workforce housing is available throughout the city, especially in areas where the opportunities for quality education and meaningful employment are available;
  • Ensure that developers allocate space in the development for a percentage of employees and their families who are working on the project to live;
  • Have the courageous conversation about the option developers have to pay a fee “in lieu of” including workforce housing in their developments.