Futrell Refutes Maxey
City manager backs Spears campaign's version of foreclosure stats
By Lee Nichols,
10:25PM, Wed. Jan. 2, 2008
In recent attacks on Tax Assessor-Collector Nelda Spears, Democratic primary challenger Glen Maxey asserted she hasn't done enough for Eastsiders, pointing to a UT study showing what he said was a disproportionate number of foreclosures on Eastside properties in 2006. Further backing his point, Maxey pointed to a quote from Austin City Manager Toby Futrell, saying that the foreclosure stats caused her "shame." Spears' campaign responded that the foreclosures were almost entirely abandoned or neglected properties which resulted in no Eastside residents being displaced from their homes.
The Maxey campaign got a kick in the shins Dec. 28 when Futrell herself sent it a letter saying that the Spears campaign is right. "When asked to respond on the spot that night to a foreclosure statistic I was seeing for the first time," Futrell wrote, "I said that I wanted to understand the numbers better, but if correct, it was shameful." But, "[u]ltimately in a May 11th letter to the Chief Operating Officer of the Travis County Tax Office and copied to me, Professor Wilson concluded that all of the East Austin foreclosed properties were vacant lots or had structures deemed uninhabitable by the City of Austin."
The full text of the letter follows:
From: "Futrell, Toby"
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Sent: Friday, December 28, 2007 4:43:12 PM
I am prohibited by my professional association's code of ethics from being publicly involved in any local or state political campaign, so this email is not intended to take sides or serve as an endorsement for any candidate for Travis County Tax Assessor Collector.
I am however very concerned about potential misperceptions that could surround a quote used in a campaign email sent out by the Glen Maxey Campaign on November 28th entitled "Showing up for Travis County Tax Payers" and want to be sure you have full information.
The campaign email references a statistic on East Austin foreclosures from what is described as a "recent report" by the LBJ School Of Public Affairs and then goes on to state, "When Austin City Manager Toby Futrell was presented with these numbers, she said it caused her 'shame'."
Here are the facts.
I was invited to be on a panel of speakers at a public forum called Focus East/Insight Forum at the University of Texas on March 21st where a student presented PowerPoint slides from what turned out to be a draft report entitled "Community and Economic Development in East Austin."
One of the PowerPoint slides declared that although East Austin contains only 15% of the city's total residential housing units, it represents 47% of the tax delinquencies and 72% of the tax foreclosures.
This clearly gave the same impression your campaign email could – that East Austin residents were being disproportionately displaced through foreclosures due to their inability to pay their taxes.
When asked to respond on the spot that night to a foreclosure statistic I was seeing for the first time, I said that I wanted to understand the numbers better, but if correct, it was shameful. That statistic and part of my response was quoted in the Austin American-Statesman the next day which is probably where your campaign sources pulled it from.
From March to May, separately both my financial staff and Robert Wilson, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Research at the LBJ School who was heading up the student research report in question, continued to dig into the numbers presented at the forum.
Ultimately in a May 11th letter to the Chief Operating Officer of the Travis County Tax Office and copied to me, Professor Wilson concluded that all of the East Austin foreclosed properties were vacant lots or had structures deemed uninhabitable by the City of Austin.
Additionally, Professor Wilson described their report's revised findings in the letter, including that "these tax foreclosures did not result in the displacement of East Austin residents" and the conclusion "that these sales did not lead to residential displacement but, in fact, vacant lots were being brought into the market as a result of the sales."
The original misunderstanding of the statistic presented at the forum was further clarified in a July 13th Austin American-Statesman article entitled "Revised Study: Foreclosure ousted no one in East Austin." The article made clear that Travis County is not putting East Austin residents out of their homes through tax foreclosures and confirmed that all the foreclosures were vacant lots or uninhabitable houses.
Professor Wilson is further quoted in that July article as saying, "East Austin faces difficult issues, but tax foreclosures is not among the major ones. The evidence contradicts the county displacing East Austin residents through foreclosures."
I would appreciate your attention to this clarified statistic and the revised report findings as it pertains to how my original response is being used in your campaign email, Glen.
Toby Hammett Futrell