Working Austinites are in a crisis — but city officials are leading them to a catastrophe.
It doesn’t take long to see the predicament currently unfolding in the city: suffocating property taxes are forcing many out of their homes; overbearing taxes on businesses are raising prices at local places such as apartments, grocery stores, and restaurants; punishing mandates on developers are spiking housing costs through the roof.
In short, everything Austinites need to buy is too expensive, and affordable housing is scarce. But the even harsher reality is that Austinites have been deliberately led to this disaster.
For years, working, taxpaying Austinites have been gradually shut out from the chance at prosperity in the city, blocked by towering walls of property taxes and fees that keep getting higher. The average Austin family is paying the city 80 percent more than they did 10 years ago, and on the city’s current trajectory those property taxes will double again in just another 10 years.
Those taxes on homeowners and fees on businesses were built up by local governments themselves; now Austinites are feeling the full consequences of those decisions, and something must change. City hall must take different action to help break the unbearable costs that are locking working-class Austinites out.
Enter Greg Casar, Austin’s socialist city council member.
Casar, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, is the youngest city councilman in Austin history and has emerged as one of its most outspoken. He has vowed to protect the working class, leading efforts on a record $250 million bond to build government housing and a citywide sick leave law that mandates businesses to provide paid sick time off to their employees. These kind of actions, he says, will be the right path to get around the working class’ walls.
“I know that if we don’t step up and do something bold, that we will not continue to have working-class people be able to live in this city,” said Casar at a rally supporting the government housing bond.
“We need to pass [the housing bond] if we want to keep Austin a city for people of all incomes, not just the wealthiest,” he said in a promotional ad.
Austinites gladly followed his lead, voting 73 percent in favor of the bond. His promises of affordability and opportunity enticed a working class of people desperate to find a way past this blockade and into prosperity on the other side.
Yet here is the truth: Casar’s way of higher taxes and fees does not end up where citizens may hope.
The path Casar is leading Austinites down is already well worn, travelled by many politicians in other cities and states in the same kind of situations. And if working Austinites simply looked over the horizon, they could see this path does not get around the walls like they were expecting, but rather turns aside and goes off a cliff.
Just ask San Franciscans, who have already journeyed down this path and fallen off the edge. The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment there is $3,300, and the median home price is a staggering $1.6 million.
Even worse, their city council has already done far beyond what Casar is now trying: San Francisco has some of the highest taxes in the nation and endless government mandates and fees. They have also spent almost $1 billion on homelessness and housing in just three years, over $37,000 for each homeless resident this year alone.
But those actions have only worsened the disaster. Homelessness has remained the same, according to a citywide survey last year, and the colossal walls of taxes and fees now loom so large they’ve left the working class hopeless to reach the other side, let alone afford a place to live.
Why doesn’t Casar’s way, and the San Francisco way, help the working class? Because higher taxes and more government mandates are what the walls are made of in the first place; the policies socialist Casar champions are the very things blocking working-class Austinites from prosperity.
When the city council takes more money from businesses, prices at places like apartments, grocery stores, and restaurants go up. When the city council takes more from homeowners, they can’t afford their homes nor the higher prices at businesses. When the city council forces punishing fees and mandates on developers, new housing costs skyrocket.
Example: One report showed the Austin City Council’s fees on a four-story apartment complex could cost a developer more than $1 million, but in Dallas those fees would only be around $120,000. That massive extra cost is forced upon you, the Austinite renting the apartment.
If Casar and the rest of the city council want to truly open prosperity to all Austinites, they could simply break down the walls.
Picture this: Lower taxes means more money in homeowners’ pockets to provide and save for their families. Lower taxes means lower prices at the grocery stores and restaurants and cheaper rent, so your dollar goes further. Lower taxes means higher wages and benefits at work since your employer will have more money to incentivize good workers to stay. Fewer fees on developers mean new and cheaper housing options for everyone.
But instead of that reality, Austinites are currently still following Casar’s way and the way of San Francisco. The consequences thus far are dangerous signs of what is to come.
There is still time for working-class Austinites to turn back, to tell their council members to finally break down the walls holding them back.
But Austinites have to choose for themselves which path they want to follow.