My proposal for the City of Austin’s 2018 infrastructure bond.
I submitted the following testimony to the Bond Election Advisory Task Force following their November, 29th 2017 “interactive” Town Hall meeting.
I am writing the Task Force to ask that you to recommend an ambitious $825 million bond package to City Council.
There are 3 specific recommendations that the final package you forward to Council should include:
First, we need a bolder and more productive affordable housing component. Our community’s deeply-flawed housing policy has already undermined what I believe is the true aspirational “character” of Austin: a place that fosters inclusion, unconventional creativity, and economic mobility.
Please increase the current amount allocated to housing from $85 to $270 million.
And please shift the NHCD programs funded by the bond towards those that productively target areas of market failure that impact the most vulnerable (which in Austin, means extremely-low-income renters).
The homeownership program in the staff recommendation unhelpfully contributes to price inflation without generating additional supply; and the jury is still out on whether the home repair program actually reduces involuntary displacement in gentrifying areas.
A better mix would be $200 million for Rental Housing Development Assistance, $50 million for land acquisition, and $20 million for a Transit-Oriented Development fund that provides zero interest loans and grants for new Accessory Dwelling Unit construction.
Second, continue expanding mobility choice by re-allocating $20 million from street reconstruction towards capacity expansion for cyclists and pedestrians in accordance with the bicycle and sidewalk master plans.
Third, to ensure taxpayers are getting the biggest-bang-for-their-buck, I encourage Task Force members to ask Council to embrace a rigorous counter-cyclical approach to the proposed land acquisitions and facility enhancements. Acquiring land and hiring labor during economic slowdowns not only stretches the purchasing power of public dollars, but also helps reduce the hardships Austin families endure during recessionary periods.
To conclude, I strongly urge you to use the current economic prosperity and political tailwinds to make a historically important public investment choice for our City.
I am confident a bold proposal will attract the campaign resources needed to successfully explain the benefits of this proposal to skeptical taxpayers.
It will be much more difficult to explain to future generations – generations that will be more diverse and even more urban than the voters of today – that we couldn’t muster the will to ask the typical homeowner to spend an additional $5 a month to protect Austin’s inclusive and creative character.