AUSTIN - At the age of 25, Greg Casar became the youngest person elected to serve on the Austin City Council.
“I think we've been able to bring lots of new ideas and new energy to City Hall,” he said.
Working on the city’s first council made up of members based on geographic representation hasn’t always been easy, but Casar said the members always find a way to make things work.
“We're like a big, diverse family. And so I think that's the best way to think about the council. Which means we all recognize each other’s differences and may argue sometimes but in the end, we all have to come together for the next vote to do the best thing for the city. And so I think that you've got a lot of different voices and we've tried to get more young people involved in city hall, not just 20 and 30-somethings but also high schoolers and middle schoolers and even elementary schoolers, we've brought together elementary school parents and their kids to city hall during the budget to help prevent a proposal to start cutting after school programs at several of our elementary schools in District 4 and in other parts of Austin. So we've been really working on getting young people involved and thinking about the longer term future of the city,” said Casar.
Giving people a voice has long been Casar’s passion. Before coming to City Hall, he worked as a community activist.
Casar was born in Houston, Texas and attended the University of Virginia where he graduated with a Bachelors of Arts in Political and Social Thought.
He moved to Austin in 2010 and was elected to city council in 2014.
“Looking back, I'm most proud of the variety of voices we've been able to lift up at City Hall. We got people that were formerly incarcerated involved in city politics asking for anti-discrimination ordinances which we've passed. We've got young people involved, advocating for more investment in their schools. We got people to come to City Hall who never had before asking just for basic amenities like sidewalks and so that's been really important for us. And I'm also really proud of shifting some of City Hall's priorities, especially towards affordable housing. In the last budget, we've dedicated a historic amount of general operating dollars to housing affordability and I hope to continue us on that track and in that process,” Casar said.
Casar said his work is not done and he hopes the constituents of District 4 in North and Northeast Austin will grant him four more years to continue serving.
“We have two really big projects coming up next year. If these transportation bonds pass, we have a major opportunity to improve our infrastructure and catch up where we've been behind and we're also doing a full re-write of our land development code that is our urban planning. And we have so much planning for growth to do that we haven't done in the past and so being able to work with the community on those two major issues next year would be very important to me,” said Casar.
“Ultimately this is about the voter's choice. And I have tried to do the best that I can with the time that I've had and then leave it up to voters to decide the leadership that it is that they want, but I've been working very hard on building more neighborhood associations in our district, helping to protect tenants from being kicked out, especially unfairly or unlawfully by their landlords, providing more infrastructure money but then also services for people inside of the district. We've put, my whole office not just me when I saw ‘we’ I mean my whole office. I think they have poured their lives into this job and it's been an honor to get the chance to do it and I'll leave it up to the voters to decide who they want to vote for.”
ON THE ISSUES
Q: Are you for or against Proposition 1, Austin’s Mobility Bond, and why?
“I am for the transportation bond because I think it's an important first step at addressing the neglect to our infrastructure. We have a lot more to do, and I do believe that we need to start investing in mass transit but right now, addressing our key corridors and missing sidewalks is really important to me.”
Q: What action do you believe the city needs to take to address traffic congestion?
“I think that our urban planning model is not set up for getting us less congestion, in fact, it's getting us more. If we continue to push sprawl out and development to outlying suburban areas, we're only going to have longer and longer car trips with just one driver per car, clogging up our major roads and so we need to figure out better ways to get you closer to retail, closer to your work, and to make sure that people's housing is built inside of the city limits instead of continuing to create more and more commuter traffic.”
“Our housing and transportation are intimately tied with one another because people's most congested road trip is usually their trip to and from work and I want to envision a future where you can live closer to work, by bringing in more of our housing inside the city instead of promoting growth out on the edges, and then potentially a future that's not too far away where more folks can come into work where they're not forced to drive in in their car by themselves.”
Q: How can the city increase affordability related to the cost of houses in Austin?
“We have to change some of our development rules so we aren't just incentivizing tearing down single family homes and building McMansions. We need more opportunities for smaller housing, more housing on our major transportation corridors. We have parking lots and industrial sites that really could be better used for what people are asking me about, what they really badly need, which is low market rate housing opportunities.”
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?
“Inequality is not just a national issue, it's an issue we face in this city and you see it in what's affecting District 4. I want to get us off the list of the most economically segregated metropolitan areas in America and that requires an all-and-above approach. We can't use singular Band-Aid approaches or expect that any one council vote is going to fix it. That's why alongside Council Member Renteria, I helped author and pass the fair housing initiative which was a batch of several affordable housing solutions. Some which would provide market rate housing, some that would provide below market rate housing. We need all the tools at our disposal from funding to private development to be able to deal with such a huge problem. We can't just deal with the issue on a one-off basis. But one of the most important things to me is integrating some of our highest opportunity parts of town. So we have to look at every opportunity we can to get lower income housing in the western parts of town and especially west of Mopac, where there's virtually no subsidized housing.”
Q: What do you believe is the biggest need of the residents in District 4?
“When I talk to District 4 voters, they are in many ways a representation of our city. I hear about transportations, affordability, and public safety. But more than anything else I hear that they want a voice at City Hall. For too long District 4 was not a place where lots of political candidates and elected officials went and talked to groups of people and so I think that the issues our district faces
can best be addressed by helping the people in District 4 have access to political power. So that's why I've been really adamant about organizing with my constituents and getting them here to City Hall so they have a chance of getting their issues addressed. I've spoken a bit in this interview about affordability and transportation, but public safety is also a significant issue in District 4 and we've been working to provide more social service funding to attack the issues that are at the roots of crime and we've also been working to make sure that when there are Downtown music festivals that police officers aren't pulled from their regular duties up in places like District 4. And I've been working very hard on the issues of our DNA lab and evidence processing because, especially in cases of sexual assault, we need swift evidence processing so we can have swift and just prosecutions and accurate evidence processing. And that's an issue that will need continued work over the next few years that I'm very passionate about.”
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?
“Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson
Greg Casar has received the support of the following organizations/individuals:
AFL-CIO Central Labor Council AFSCME
AURA Austin Environmental Democrats
Austin Firefighters Association Austin Police Association
Austin Young Democrats Austin/Travis County EMS Association
Austin Progressive Coalition Central Austin Democrats
Capital Area Progressive Democrats Liberal Austin Democrats
North by Northwest Democrats Second Chance Democrats
Stonewall Democrats of Austin Travis County Democratic Party
University Democrats Workers Defense Action Fund
Congressman Lloyd Doggett Representative Eddie Rodriguez
Hon. Cecelia Burke Hon. Charlie Baird
Hon. Sheryl Cole Hon. Frank Cooksey
Hon. Gus Garcia Hon. Chuck Herring
Hon. Mike Martinez Hon. Brewster McCracken
Hon. Margaret Moore Hon. Sabino “Pio” Renteria
Hon. Chris Riley
MORE ON GREG CESAR
- Previous Occupation: Community Organizer
- Education: University of Virginia: BA in Political and Social thought
- Birthplace: Houston, Texas
- Years in Austin, 6
- Mobility bond: For
To Read More About Greg Casar, go here.
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