Rent for a one-bedroom apartment is up to $3,200 a month in Austin, with median home prices over $600,000. It’s no wonder AISD is looking at bonds to support teacher housing. A city that only attracts the wealthy, while pricing out teachers, nurses, childcare workers, artists, musicians, young professionals, and public service workers cannot continue to function.
That’s why in early June I put forward a bold, progressive housing plan, stating “affordability remains our biggest challenge as a city.” I addressed head-on the supply issues at the heart of Austin’s affordability crisis, and, yes, I challenged the entrenched interests who have long limited the supply, type, and location of housing.
It’s not just out of control prices; Austin has long struggled with systemic imbalances. We were ranked the most economically segregated city in the country by the Martin Property Institute, a distinction directly related to our city’s dark legacy in the 1928 Master Plan, when city planners used the land code to legally segregate Austin’s Black and Mexican American communities. All-white, all-male city councils may be a thing of the past but make no mistake: Racial inequities are baked into our antiquated land development codes.
That’s why I was disappointed to see my friend and fellow candidate for mayor, Kirk Watson, fail to meet the moment as he released his plan for housing. “Potentially OK; potentially awful,” is how Jack Craver with Austin Politics Newsletter described it. While Mike Clark-Madison from this publication compared it to “the much-feared ‘ward politics’” in Chicago [“The Bold Eye of the Beholder
,” Austin at Large, July 22].
The most troubling part of Kirk’s proposal is his plan to give each council district the right to veto changes they deem undesirable, from apartments to duplexes. Civil rights advocates worry this is a return to redlining, while forcing all new housing options onto the Eastside, kicking displacement and gentrification into overdrive. It’s a throwback to decades past in Austin politics when the most politically active neighborhoods didn’t have to share power with their more marginalized neighbors. Austin doesn’t lack high-end housing; we lack housing for middle-income families. We’re years behind our 2017 goals of 60,000 affordable units, and the outmigration of communities of color has been well documented.
Kirk’s response to community blowback is to argue “something” is better than nothing, but, in reality, his plan bows to the old guard and doubles down on the same willful ignorance that’s pricing working families out of our city.
Austin is a multicultural city, but we’re still on the path of learning what it means to share power. But to solve a crisis, you need bold leadership with an inclusive spirt that calls everyone to the table. You don’t send them to their corners in a segregated city.
Rep. Celia Israel