I asked a dozen of the most policy-minded critics of the “mansion exemption” for alternative ways of spending approximately $30 million annually to boost Austin’s affordability. Here are the four main themes that came across in their responses.
The 20% homestead exemption’s dollars flow to the district’s with the highest median incomes.
Boosting housing supply – not surprisingly – was a priority. There were many variants:
- Means-tested new construction
- Support homeless-focused “Housing First” programs
- Low-cost loans for middle-class folks building “granny flats”
- Rehabilitation lending pool for “problem properties” facing significant code violations
Expand public services
Interestingly, all respondents indicated a need to actually expand some basic services (such as parks) to modest-income communities. Many emphasized services that do double-duty as income supports for families: pre-school, youth programs, library activities.
Broaden targeted assistance programs
Providing additional funding for programs that support residents facing financial hardships. Examples included Austin Energy’s “Customer Assistance Program” and the East Austin Conservancy’s property tax relief fund.
Get better information
Many of the respondents indicated a need to redirect affordability concerns through task forces/studies that present fairer and/or fiscally-sound options to Council. The following options were identified:
- Utility pricing & discounts
- Trajectory & focus of public safety dollars
- Fiscal effects of low-density development in core on middle- and low-income residents
- Comprehensive effects of City’s multiple revenue streams on modest-income residents
These options are complementary to my own suggestions. One of the critics I polled wrote up a more detailed explanation of his alternative program.
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