Southwest Austin Dripping Springs Edition | January 2023



POSITIONS POLICY New and returning council members have varying views on several top issues ocials will likely wrestle with this year. Should council still pursue a comprehensive land code rewrite? Do you favor the current plans for expanding I35? Is Austin’s homelessness strategy work on the right track?

Making ends meet Mayor Kirk Watson, who served in the role from 1997-2001, and new council representatives all led on messages tied to aordability. Watson, who also campaigned on getting government back to basics, called it the “ultimate basic” for ocials to address. While Austin’s council cannot directly control housing costs, they can inuence aordability in other areas. Several ocials said they will plan for a narrower city budget and tax rate this summer to limit property taxes amid rising city charges and utility fee hikes. “I want to start o where it’s a no-new-revenue rate so that what will happen is we may want to put stu in there that changes that, but you have to justify it,” Watson said. After a decadelong attempt to rewrite Austin’s land development code stalled in court, ocials passed updates designed to spur construction in targeted areas in late 2022. But members said more must be done. “It’s important for Austin City Council to deliver on policies that make housing more aordable, child care more accessible and help working families thrive in the city we all love,” District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said. While also pro-housing, Velásquez also supports additional ways to relieves Austinites’ wallets, such as free full-day pre-K. Watson said he believes Austin must add more housing immediately, and he hopes to start o the year by passing items of agreement on the dais after what he deemed an unsuccessful “all- or-nothing approach” in recent years. Zo Qadri, downtown Austin’s new

Kirk Watson Mayor Ryan Alter District 5          No comment         Natasha Harper-Madison District 1 Vanessa Fuentes District 2 José Velásquez District 3 Chito Vela District 4

council member for District 9, said he would like to look at expanding existing city aordability programs while taking another run at wider- reaching policy changes. “Austin is in a housing crisis, and I think the broadest way to put it is that we need more housing,” he said. South Austin’s District 5 representative Ryan Alter has his own housing plan, Opportunity Unlocked. He said it could incentivize more aordable housing both in heavily tracked areas and in neighborhoods. “The corridors can be a great place to live, … but if [people] want to live in a neighborhood, that should be an opportunity for them,” Alter said. A top Watson proposal would require that every council district meet a baseline for new development, inspired by the city’s Strategic Housing Blueprint outlining aordable housing needs citywide. That plan would also nancially reward districts adding the most housing. “Every district has to meet a baseline, but you avoid a comprehensive across-the-city change that creates a

over three years. Leaders said the most visible results of the eort, backed by more than $200 million from Austin, will come in 2023 and 2024. The city expects 450 housing units for people exiting homelessness to open this year. “The Homeless Strategy Division will continue operations to strengthen its collaborative leadership of the communitywide homelessness response system through strategic oversight, continuous improvement, addressing equity, and introducing proven housing and social service interventions,” an HSD spokesperson said. At City Hall, council members shared mixed reviews of Austin’s work with homelessness. Watson said an increase in transparency and the scope of options for assisting those on the streets is needed, and other members said the city should look to speed up or adjust its path. “I believe there is room for improvement and a need for better organization and execution in addressing encampments in city

veto power,” Watson said. Austin is also buying up land and supporting new projects with the last of its 2018 housing bond funds and the start of $350 million more approved by voters in November. The city housing department said it expects to fund 750 aordable units in scal year 2022-23. The Austin Development Services Department said its focus is streamlining permitting, a priority shared across the dais, as developers have said permitting times are a barrier to building housing quicker. Unhoused response Council also faces the task of responding to a growing homeless population: more than 4,600 people were believed to be homeless in the Austin area as of October, according to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition. Ocials’ work to address homelessness comes as the $515 million Finding Home ATX public-private fundraising initiative continues to play out. The program aims to house at least 3,000 people

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