Austin Kicks Affordability Can Down the Road - Texas Scorecard

After two and a half hours of debate, the Austin City Council voted to postpone indefinitely a program that would encourage more affordable options for housing as well as reduce burdensome regulations for businesses.

Thursday in Austin City Hall, Councilmember Ellen Troxclair put forth her Affordability Austin initiative – a series of proposals intended to help reduce burdensome regulations on businesses and homeowners for the purpose of reducing the Capital city’s high cost of living. The program was co-sponsored by Mayor Steve Adler, and councilmembers Ora Houston, Jimmy Flanagan, and Anne Kitchen.

While the program represents more of a guide than anything, the item that sparked the most controversy with the program is also the item the city needs the most – a directive to city staff to create a budget that wouldn’t increase property tax bills.

Troxclair amended the program to clarify that this resolution would not codify anything, that all new implementations would still come back to council for a vote. Nonetheless, members either felt that the items were redundant or unnecessary, or that they didn’t have enough information to vote on it conclusively.

Speaking in favor of the program, a representative with the Austin Board of Realtors noted that housing costs have nearly doubled since 2003 – while median household income remained relatively stagnant.

Other directives in the program included working within CodeNext – Austin’s currently unfinished land use code redrafting – to establish more business and homebuilder friendly regulatory frameworks. Among those is a suggestion to streamline the efficiency in the city’s permitting process to achieve higher standards in permit approval rapidity.

Expectedly, the program drew ire from those who would feel taxes and fees need to be raised to fund additional programs – such as the environmentalists, who posited that they simply ‘will need to raise fees’ in order to pursue pet programs.

Councilmember Delia Garza echoed some of these concerns after moving to postpone the item indefinitely. Surprisingly, Garza rightfully blamed some of the high taxes Austin homeowners pay on the Robin Hood school finance system, which requires AISD to remit over $400 million back to the state annually.

“A lot of this has been done, is being done, or shouldn’t be done,” added councilmember Leslie Pool.

Additionally, the program recommended convening small business owners to take input on what zoning regulations and other regulations can be eliminated in order to encourage small businesses in the city.

“How many more businesses must go under before we act?” asked one citizen in support of the program.

Ultimately, after deliberating on creating a task-force to study the program’s implementation, council voted 6-5 to kick the can down the road and postpone the vote indefinitely, with only Troxclair, Adler, Houston, and Flanagan voting against the postponement.

It is nothing short of embarrassing that even after the plan was watered down to be less effective than what taxpayers in Austin really need, councilmembers still lack the conviction to address such a pressing problem.