City Hall Gears Up for $300M+ Housing Bond
Austin voters will likely be asked to approve the money in November
Austin voters will likely be asked to approve a new housing bond in November, following the launch of a campaign by housing advocates for a ballot measure to secure a minimum of $300 million for various affordable housing programs.
In 2018, about 73% of voters in the city approved a $250 million housing bond – nearly three times larger than prior housing bonds in 2006 and 2013. Nearly all of those funds have been spent or committed, yet Austin's housing crisis is worse than ever. Mayor Steve Adler floated the idea of a new housing bond in January, saying he would support a package between $300 million and $500 million. Now, he told the Chronicle, he wants Council to place a bond on the Nov. 8 ballot. "It seems there's considerable and widespread community support," the mayor told us. "And there's certainly a critical need."
Council will vote at the July 28 meeting to ask City Manager Spencer Cronk to prepare an election ordinance. Should the ayes have it, staff will present draft language to Council for approval in mid-August; the deadline to set the November ballot is Aug. 22 (also the filing deadline for this fall's Council elections).
HousingWorks Austin, Foundation Communities, the Austin Justice Coalition, Austin Habitat for Humanity, and The Other Ones Foundation have already signed on to a November campaign, with others soon to follow. An upcoming press conference on Thursday, July 21, is likely to serve as the campaign kickoff, with more endorsements on tap. The event is being held at the Jordan at Mueller, a Foundation Communities property funded in part by the 2013 and 2018 housing bonds.
Even a $500 million bond won't solve Austin's housing crisis, but housing providers can leverage the city's money to produce new below-market-rate housing and preserve existing affordable stock. HousingWorks Austin jointly conducts an ongoing study with the data analytics firm Civic Economics to discern "The Economic Impact of Austin's Affordable Housing Bonds."
The latest impact report, issued last month, concludes that $122 million in city bond funds spent on new affordable housing since 2013 garnered an additional $788 million in financing from other sources, which produced a total of 4,372 new units in 43 projects, 3,707 of which are below market rate; 833 of those are permanent supportive housing units. Looking just at projects funding by 2018 bond proceeds, HousingWorks and Civic Economics identified 21 projects either completed or under construction, with 1,712 total units, 96% of which are affordable.
Before advocates can get too excited about a new housing bond, they'll have to contend with the reality check expected to be delivered by Cronk when he presents his proposed fiscal year 2023 budget this Friday, July 15. The city budget office has warned for years of looming budget deficits in the wake of 2019 legislation that sharply limits how much tax revenue cities can raise without seeking voter approval. With the national economy teetering on the edge of recession, and growing pressure to fund a $22-per-hour minimum wage for city employees (or as close as Council thinks it can get to that), the likelihood of a more austere budget for next year is even greater.