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Austin City Council approves placing $350M housing bond on November ballot

The council approved placing a $350 million affordable housing bond to a vote for Austin residents to decide on.

AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated that Councilmember Vanessa Fuentes abstained from the vote. However, she was not present for the vote.

The Austin City Council voted Thursday to place an affordable housing bond on the November ballot.

The council approved placing a $350 million affordable housing bond to a vote for Austin residents to decide on. The amount is a $50 million increase from what affordable housing advocates initially called for. 

Councilmember Mackenzie Kelly was the sole vote against the measure while Councilmember Natasha Harper-Madison abstained from the vote. Councilmember Vanessa Fuentes, a co-sponsor of the measure, was unable to vote because she was out of town.

“We are very thankful to Mayor Adler and all Council Members for their support in placing a $350 million affordable housing bond on the November 2022 ballot,” said LaRessa Quintana, campaign manager for the 2022 affordable housing bond campaign. “This bond will go a long way in addressing Austin’s affordability crisis and providing housing access to the most vulnerable Austinites.”

With the passage, the debt service portion of the tax rate will increase by $0.0130. The annual impact to the typical homeowner, defined as a home assessed at $448,000 with a taxable value of $358,400, is a fee increase of $46.59.

The new affordable housing measure comes as home prices and rent reach record highs in Austin and after a group of Austin-area nonprofits launched a campaign urging the council to place a $300 million affordable housing bond on the ballot this November.

The Austin Justice Coalition, HousingWorks Austin and others rallied at the Jordan at Mueller, an affording housing complex funded by previous bonds, on July 21 to officially launch the campaign.

“Housing is crucial in all of our struggles for justice and equity. Whether we’re talking about racial justice, gender equity or the needs of working people, we always come back to the importance of affordable, safe, stable and equitable housing access, and this is a window of opportunity we can’t afford to miss," said João Paulo Connolly, organizing director for the Austin Justice Coalition.

The bond would be fulfilled through a property tax increase. At this point, the amount of that increase has not been decided but will be before election day.

“If Austin really is going to live up to some of the lofty values that we claim to endorse, then affordable housing and deeply affordable housing has to be at the center of our priorities as a community,” said Connolly.

The most recent affordable housing bond was in 2018, but Connolly said although there is some money left from that, it will not last.

“Our affordable housing development programs, both for rental and for ownership, will run out of money. Our home repair program will run out of money, and our land acquisition programs from the city will halt because we will no longer have money to continue these programs in coming years,” said Connolly.

The nonprofits say these bonds support a range of housing programs, including the creation of affordable rental units for low-income residents, repair and rehabilitation services for homeowners, expansion of homeownership opportunities for moderate-income Austinites, construction of supportive housing for those exiting homelessness, and the acquisition of properties to produce more housing for those with lower incomes. 

They say past bonds have funded affordable homes for almost 6,000 households and allowed hundreds of homeowners to stay in their communities through repair programs.

Jennifer McKeever and her three kids live at M Station, which is an affordable housing complex run by Foundation Communities, which was funded by the 2006 bond. She and her kids moved there in 2019 after living in the Austin Women’s and Children’s Shelter for about six months. She still remembers the day her caseworker told her she had been approved to live there.

“It was amazing,” said McKeever. “I mean, we had been working hard to find what me and my kids called our 'forever home.'”

M Station also has many other resources, like a free learning center for kids, which allows her to work as a single mother. She now feels like she has the resources to give her kids stability and a home.

“My biggest goal is to never be homeless again,” McKeever said. “I do not want my children to have to go through that. And I have peace that’s not going to happen again.”

She said that as a single mother with three kids and no family in Austin, she still has to budget to even be able to pay for affordable housing. But she hopes other people can have the opportunity to find safe, stable, and affordable homes like she and her family did.

“So, it's not like we're getting a free ride,” said McKeever. “We're at where it's actually possible for us to live and survive in this city.”

“Our previous bonds have delivered thousands of units of permanently affordable housing, with thousands more on the way,” said Nora Linares-Moeller, executive director for HousingWorks. “We know that the 2013 and 2018 bonds produced over 8,000 jobs and ultimately generated long-term savings for Austin’s households, all while adding over $1 billion to the Austin economy."

At the event, organizers are expected to speak about the positive impact of previous affordable housing bonds and what a new bond could do for Austinites.

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