More and more Austin families are struggling to make ends meet, thanks to decisions by city officials.

“When I bought this house 22 years ago, my property taxes were [roughly] $2,800 a year, which was doable,” said Austin homeowner Brendan Sipple. “Now they are $9,000.”

Sipple, a single father in north Austin, described how his now-tripled taxes are threatening to kick him out of his own home.

“It does worry me. I think about it all the time,” he said. “The only reason they are that low [$9,000] is because I fought them for years. I think about at what point do I say I can’t do it anymore.”

Austin has long been known for its unique restaurants, places, and people. But sadly, over the past few years, a crisis has occurred: the city’s culture-defining establishments and citizens are rapidly vanishing. Over 50 downtown iconic local businesses have closed in just two years, and scores of homeowners have been forced to move out of the city.

A new report shed more light on the dire situation and showed that Sipple’s story is one shared by many across the city—and one that’s only getting worse.

According to a recent analysis by United Way, an astonishing 42 percent of Austin families are now struggling to make ends meet.

“[These people are] basically one kind of emergency away from falling into some sort of financial crisis that would cause them to not really be able to regain their sustainability and potentially just fall into poverty,” said Stephanie O’Banion, president and CEO of United Way Central Texas.

The report found that raising a family of four in Travis County costs a whopping $13,000 more than the statewide average.

“These are people who are working hard and working full-time,” said David C. Smith, president of the United Way for Greater Austin. “They’re just still barely getting by and struggling.”

Why is this crisis happening in the first place? Ask city hall.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler and the city council have been a main culprit behind forcing out businesses and residents like Sipple, and they’ve done so by repeatedly making the same bad decision: they keep taking more money.

Indeed, city council is now taking 80 percent more from the average homeowner than they did 10 years ago, a staggering amount that many residents can no longer afford.

Even worse, after city council has forced Austin homeowners to scrape together more money to feed their growing appetite, city officials have taken that pile of cash and spent it rather loosely: like $115,000 to clean one public toilet, or millions given away to any citizen who applied, or $140 million overspent on a bad tunnel.

But despite carelessly wasting citizens’ money, forcing Austinites out of their own homes, and spending over $4,000 per citizen (roughly double of cities like Dallas), city council still plans to take more money again this year—pushing even more residents like Sipple to the brink of moving out.

Ironically, Mayor Adler said he knows taxes are too high, but he’s still continually voted to keep taking more. He’s also blamed the state for tax increases.

“Everybody knows property taxes are rising way too high,” Adler said. “[But] what people don’t understand is… the part that the state taxes us has gone up over 288 percent in the last five years.”

Adler referenced a socialist state law known as Robin Hood that has also played a part in dramatically increasing tax bills—and he’s right, the awful law should be repealed.

But here’s the problem: Adler blamed the state for raising taxes while he is doing the same thing.

If Adler actually wants to put an end to this crisis, then he and the city council must stop clawing more cash from Austinites like Sipple and the 42 percent of families struggling to make ends meet. This whole crisis began because government kept eating more of their paycheck.

And while the mayor and the Austin City Council are only a handful of the government officials responsible for the crisis, they can choose to start advancing a solution rather than worsening the problem.

Currently, however, they’ve chosen to force more families out. If there is any chance for Sipple and thousands of Austin homeowners to stay in their homes, they will have to speak up and tell their city council members to stop raising taxes.

Otherwise, Adler’s actions and words are a clear indication that he and the city council will just continue taking more.

Mayor: Steve Adler
Phone: 512-978-2100

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.