Point Austin: Breaking Down the Bonds
Affordable housing headlines, but there’s plenty in the package
Mostly lost in the City Council hullabaloo over the November referendum propositions (J and K, respectively land use code and "efficiency audit") and the failed Supreme Court challenges that followed, were Propositions A through G. Those are the major bond propositions, headlined by the $250 million affordable housing Prop A, which has thus far generated the most ink.
It's an ambitious proposal, although some advocates were pressing for even more. As a group, the seven propositions total $925 million – a major ask, although not quite meeting the $1 billion proposal for both a rail line and mobility projects, rejected by the voters in 2014. The other six bonds would underwrite expanded health care services, parks and recreation facilities, libraries and related cultural facilities, flood mitigation, public safety costs, and (inevitably) more transportation infrastructure.
In the coming weeks, the News department will have more specific reporting on the propositions, and eventually our editorial board will weigh in, prior to early voting beginning Oct. 22. What follows is a basic breakdown of the propositions and the projects they would underwrite.
• Prop A (Affordable Housing): $250 million
The big-ticket portion of the housing bond ($100 million) is for land purchases by the Austin Housing Finance Corporation, either for eventual development by the AHFC, or for other nonprofit or for-profit developers of affordable housing. These bonds would also pay for related projects: $94 million specifically targeting affordable rental housing (including permanent supportive housing); $28 million for the city's successful "Go Repair!" program to help maintain existing affordable housing; and $28 million for "acquisition and development" of housing dedicated to low- and moderate-income homeowners.
Libraries, Fire Stations, Trails ...
• Prop B (Libraries/Cultural Centers): $128 million. This bond would provide $56.5 million for improvements to the Mexican American Cultural Center, Asian American Resource Center, Carver Museum and Cultural Center, and Mexic-Arte Museum; $34.5 million for branch library renovations and initial adaptation of Faulk Central Library for an Austin History Center annex; $25 million to replace the aged-out Dougherty Arts Facility; and $12 million for acquisition of "creative spaces" supporting the arts.
• Prop C (Parks and Recreation): $149 million. $45 million of this bond targets parkland acquisition (in theory, including UT's Lions Municipal Golf Course); $40 million is for a pool at Northeast Austin's Colony Park (and other pool repairs); and a total of $64 million goes to improvements to existing parks, greenbelts, and PARD facilities.
• Prop D (Flood Mitigation/Open Space): $184 million. The bulk of this funding ($112 million) would go directly to drainage and stormwater projects; $72 million is for acquisition of water quality protection land.
• Prop E (Health and Human Services): $16 million. This is the only single-project funding, for a long-needed new Dove Springs Health Center.
• Prop F (Public Safety): $38 million. The specific projects are for citywide renovations of fire stations ($13 million) and EMS stations ($25 million).
• Prop G (Transportation Infrastructure): $160 million. The funded projects would include miscellaneous street improvements ($66.5 million), bridge repair and replacement ($50 million), and a range of sidewalk, safety, and trail improvements ($43.5 million).
It's too early to tell how the public wind is blowing on the overall bond package. Mayor Steve Adler and the independent Austin Together PAC kicked off their bond support campaign in a brief press conference Wednesday outside City Hall, and beyond general enthusiasm didn't yet provide much detail about the specific propositions. With some exceptions, Austin voters have traditionally been supportive of bond work, and it's likely that as freestanding items, each of these propositions would engender considerable support. (Thus far, no organized opposition has surfaced, but it's likely to arise soon.)
But selling the entire package might prove daunting in what will be essentially a two-month campaign – will voters want to pick and choose on the menu, and support certain categories (e.g., roads, parks, and libraries) but balk at others? The various Council campaigns might have their own unpredictable effects – in 2014, the initial 10-1 campaign featured plenty of "throw-the-bums-out" sentiment, and that inevitably spilled over onto the rail and road bond. Yet only two years later, Austinites voted enthusiastically for the $720 million mobility bond – and that price tag was not so far from $925 million addressing many more needs.
The budgeteers' estimates are that for typical "median value homeowner" (currently about $335,000), the eventual bond tab – kicking in around 2021 – will be about $60/year, or roughly a thrifty couple's night out. Whether folks will be willing to swallow that relatively small bite, or balk at the cost of the overall package ... is yet to be seen. Expect a visit, real or virtual, from the folks at Austin Together.