AUSTIN - Nick Virden is part of an elusive group in Austin, Texas. He’s a native Austininte, born and raised in the Capital City. And he wants to bring his voice to City Hall.
“What really inspired me to run was just that there's not a millennial voice,” Virden said.
“So Greg Casar and Ellen Troxclair, to me, are kind of a little bit older millennials. Millennials span right now from 20 to 35.”
Casar is in his late 20s, Troxclair her early 30s. Virden is 23-years old.
“I'm trying to bring that younger millennial voice to the city council and I think that city council hasn't been doing a lot in terms of tech innovation or they've been a little tech-adverse.”
Virden works as a real estate market analyst. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in International Business.
“I was a political organizer in school, so I was president of a political org and I brought a lot of people into politics just through that. And so I said ‘hey, city council's a great place to start my political career,’” said Virden.
But the timing of the election isn’t the only thing that motivated Virden to run. It’s also the current council and District 10 Council Member Sheri Gallo’s performance.
“They keep saying that they're going to make it more affordable to live here but it doesn’t pan out in the long run,” Virdern said. “I haven’t seen any results and so I want to try to make it more affordable for people like me to live here.”
“[Gallo] voted for background checks for Uber and Lyft and I thought that, to me, I have never had a bad experience with Uber and Lyft and I have tons of friends who go to UT, they go to 6th Street all the time and I've never heard anyone having a bad experience with Uber and Lyft drivers and then they vote to do things like impose background checks on them, or impose fingerprint background checks when the name based ones seem to be doing pretty fine.”
“I thought she was on the wrong side of, you know, Austin being tech-friendly and so I wanted to jump in.”
ON THE ISSUES
Q: Are you for or against Proposition 1, Austin’s Mobility Bond, and why?
“I’m mostly against the transportation bond. I like that it does address some, you know, it does address fixing roads but at the same time, it's a lot of beautification. Part of it is taking away traffic lanes to put in bus lanes, there’s actually a lot of things that are going to either not improve traffic at all, in a neutral sense, or they're actually going to make traffic more problematic. And, you know things that I do like about it, so Council Member Gallo actually got some money for adaptive signal timing which is something that I think we need all across Austin, since it's a, this is what we refer to in the real estate business as an 18-hour city which means that there's not just work. There's plenty of stuff outside the work life. People see that when you're driving home late at night, probably after a show or you've gone to West 6th Street or something like that, you know, the signals aren't, you're waiting at stoplights when nobody's coming in the other direction. So those are really meaningful improvements that just help people get home safely. But you know I think there's a lot more that can be said for just expanding roads or improving, you know improving our current roads and we don’t need to do it with $720 million. The mayor actually said we can charge up to $500 million on our "city's credit card" so to speak without raising taxes. And that's another reason I oppose it. Just because it's going to raise taxes on us. And they say, you know, ‘oh it's only $5 a month or $60 a year’ but they're constantly saying…'oh it's only this much,’ ‘oh it's only a dollar’, ‘it's only a this’ but it adds up over time. So I oppose it because it's going to raise our taxes which also makes this place less affordable to live and it's not addressing the key issues of improving our traffic throughput and giving us the bang for our buck.”
Q: What action do you believe the city needs to take to address traffic congestion?
“There's easy things that we can do. There's a lot of roads, it's not in my district but if you look at West Campus for example, there are roads there that it seems like they haven't repaved them since the 1980s. I mean, I have an SUV and you're driving down these roads and my car is shaking. I can't imagine what it's like for someone in a sedan. So we just need to be addressing those sorts of things. Why can't we go repave these roads, make them smooth. We could eliminate left turs in certain areas. Eliminating left turns actually helps with traffic flow. I just think we shouldn't be taking away traffic lanes either, whether it's for bike lanes. They actually did that off of Mesa Drive and they took away car lanes to put in these buffered bike lanes and now traffic after school gets out, Anderson High School, it actually backs up all the way from Spicewood Springs down Mesa to Steck and Mesa, which is over three blocks. So I just think that we should make sure that we're improving roads in areas that need extra throughput. That's really where I think we should be allocating the money.”
Q: How can the city increase affordability related to the cost of houses in Austin?
“In the short term I think what we could really do in terms of meaningful reform for getting more housing in the area, in the Austin area, is just streamlining our permitting process by digitizing certain steps perhaps. There doesn't need to be a human every step of the way, especially in the 21st Century when if you just need to check a box here or there or someone needs to follow a certain steps...and then we can reallocate those city workers that were passing those pieces of paper along through the process, we can reallocate them to parts of our permitting process that actually need a human eye to review them. And looking forward to Code Next, really my hope is that we eliminate a lot of restrictive regulations, and to be fair, I don't know the code inside and out, but I think there are probably things that were priorities in the 80s or whenever the code was actually written, that probably shouldn’t be priorities now or that contribute to urban sprawl, that we know contribute to urban sprawl, that we could eliminate in order to densify the city which is ultimately where it's going to be leading. I read somewhere that we need 15,000 apartments per year about just to keep up with demand and right now we're only building about 4,000 to 5,000 which that's just going to drive prices through the roof.”
Q: The Martin Prosperity Institute found Austin is the “most economically segregated major metro area in the U.S.,” how do you propose Austin address this?
"Reducing restrictions on zoning and land-use would really go a long way in allowing more freedom of movement and diversifying our neighborhoods and workplaces. Right now, the complicated zoning and land-use codes and the foot-dragging by City Hall delay housing development of all types, inevitably making it financially unworkable for developers to charge rents or starter home prices on the lowest end of the spectrum. I propose that we make calculated cuts at the red tape at zoning and land-use regulations and digitize a whole host of processes in that department so that we can speed up development to meet the metro area's housing needs. Once the housing stock catches up with the demand for housing, home price and rent appreciation will plateau, which will enable greater freedom of movement across the metro for even our least fortunate as they have more choices of living accommodations."
Q: What do you believe is the biggest need of the residents in District 10?
“It's really a tug of war between affordability and transportation because in District 10, 90 percent of people, 90 to 95 percent of people actually drive cars. So we're not using a lot of public transportation and then at the same time most people in District 10 are homeowners, they have, you know, large homes. They may be seniors who moved there in the 60s and now their homes are worth many times what they actually paid for them and their taxes have gone up subsequently. I mean I listen to my parents, I live at home right now, and I listen to my parents complain all the time about, you know, how their property taxes, they're always going up. So and even for renters the property taxes get passed on to them. So you hear, I get to see my friends move all over town trying to find the cheapest rent.
If we're going to have one key issue, it's probably going to be, it's probably going to be affordability just because District 10, it's majority homeowners, we have almost no affordable housing so there aren't people that are really looking to rent below market units or anything like that and so we just need to stop increasing property taxes. We need to extend the homestead exemption. We need to make sure that, you know, if we're going to add spending to the budget, we're not going to increase property taxes on people. We need to find cuts in certain places, for example there are a bunch of city funded, city positions that aren’t filled yet and that's in the hundreds of thousands to low millions of dollars and that's, so there are meaningful cuts to be made there. And again, if we go back to digitizing the zoning and land use process we can eliminate spending on certain people's salaries which is not very good for the people who lose those jobs but the city at the end of the day is a corporation and we have to balance expenditures with revenues. So there just has to be hard decisions made in the budget.”
Q: On a lighter note, Austinites like to believe we live in the “Live Music Capitol of the World,” so tell us, what’s your favorite song?
"Cold Water" by Major Lazer feat. Justin Bieber
MORE ON NICK VIRDEN
- Senior Instructor at Third Coast Martial Arts
- Education: University of Texas
- Birthplace: Austin
- Mobility Bond: Against
To Read More About Nick Virden, go here.