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September 27, 2016

Austin City Council Candidate Questionnaire

Friends of Austin Neighborhoods (FAN) is a coalition of neighborhood associations and at-large individual members improving neighborhoods and improving neighborhood representation. We appreciated the opportunity to hear candidates’ thoughts on City Council policies can positively impact the quality of life for residents in our neighborhoods. The following questions are based on our principles of neighborhood inclusion. We received responses from 14 out of a crowded field of 20 candidates. Candidates Louis C. Herrin III, Leslie Pool, Belinda Greene, Bennett “Ben” Easton, Noel Tristan, and Jennifer Virden chose not to participate.

District 2

What policies will you advocate to enable the full abundance and diversity of families to live in whichever neighborhood they choose?

David Chincanchan

The central focus of our campaign is building an Austin for All – a community where every family has the opportunity to pursue their dreams and achieve their full potential. This requires access to safe, healthy, and affordable housing, to frequent, reliable, and affordable public transit, and to quality education and economic opportunity.

To make this a reality, I believe we must follow through on the Council’s direction to prioritize “all types of homes for all kinds of people, in all parts of town” through complementary strategies of increased housing and housing types, especially along our corridors and in our activity centers, and bold investments in affordable housing and public transportation.

I fully support the Strategic Housing Blueprint and am committed to taking bold action to meet our housing goals and to create more missing middle and affordable housing opportunities for our communities. This includes implementing the Strategic Housing Blueprint’s recommendations related to meeting housing supply and addressing rising housing costs, including implementing a citywide density bonus program, allowing more opportunities for missing middle housing and smaller homes on smaller lots, streamlining the permitting process to preserve and create affordable housing, aligning our Land Development Code with the city’s Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice, collaborating with employers on a housing fund to create workforce housing, incentivizing the production of living wage jobs, and constructing affordable housing on city-owned land.

Casey Ramos

Create programs that encourage developers and owners to offer long (perhaps five-to-seven year) leases to tenants at all income levels who commit to staying in a property, given that predictability benefits landlords and tenants alike.

Create a tax advantage account (like an individual retirement account) where the default choice would be a blended and diversified bond and equity fund. This could be used for limited purposes related to housing, such as for a down payment for a home purchase. It could be funded by rebalancing the federal subsidies so that they are targeted to households who want to become homeowners, or renters who need an emergency fund to pay their rent during a crisis.

Develop a sustainable and scalable Rent-To-Own program, where a financial product that uses Federal Housing Administration or state Housing Finance Agency programs for the entity who owns the house while the occupants are renting. The mortgage would be assumable, and the landlord/owner would transfer a portion of the loan to the tenant/homebuyer when they are able to accumulate the necessary 3.5 percent down payment for the carved out rental payments and meet other underwriting criteria. The transfer would come with predictable
costs to the buyer, and there would be visibility for both parties to the transaction.

Vanessa Fuentes

I believe this city needs all kinds of housing in all parts of the city. There should be a place in this city for all families, regardless of their income level. I believe we need more duplexes, quadplex, apartments, and ADUs, especially in areas of Austin where we have the necessary infrastructure and connectivity. I believe we should focus land development changes on the central corridors along transit corridors. Yet, I am concerned about how these changes can impact low-income communities of color. We need real affordable housing in all city council districts.

Alex Strenger

Artists, musicians, students, teachers, healthcare workers and blue collar professionals make up the backbone of our amazing city and we need housing allocated for them at 30-50% MFI so that they can thrive and prosper here.

How will you resolve conflicts when the wishes of some incumbent residents in a neighborhood conflict with the aspirations of other residents and the interests of the larger, city-wide community?

David Chincanchan

I believe that Council needs to structure policy debates by providing clear guidance on the goals and outcomes we are seeking, and Council also needs to establish a clear expectation that the city must actively seek out and include diverse voices to contribute to the process. These are both components that I believe are key to fostering more productive dialogue.

Our strategic plans are one of the most important places where we resolve conflict as a community. When Council adopts a strategic plan, it makes decisions regarding the city’s goals and priorities – and those decisions should be the starting point for future conversations, rather than a reprisal of past debates. After the Council adopts a plan, we should then focus our policy discussions on our established goals, rather than approaching each discussion as a free-form conversation. Doing so allows us to both respect the work and deliberation that went into our strategic plans and ensure that conflicts are resolved in a way that supports the community-wide goals in our strategic plans.

But I want to emphasize that we need to reduce barriers to participation so that the residents who are most impacted by our housing and affordability crises are able to participate in a meaningful way. Such a reimagining of our community engagement processes needs to start from a place of recognizing the very real obstacles that have prevented many working families, students, non-English speakers, and other under-represented groups from participating in past processes.

By maintaining a focus on our established goals and looking for ways to reduce barriers to participation, I believe Council will foster more productive deliberations that ensure we are respecting the values of our community as a whole.

Casey Ramos

Respect the wishes of incumbent residents as they have every right to stay and protect the neighborhoods they have built while being open to new ideas, people, and ways of efficient living that we may all live under.

Vanessa Fuentes

The number one job of a council member is to listen to their constituents. I believe it’s important to actively engage our community to make their voice heard and to engage in the process. My goal will always be to carefully balance the needs and priorities of my community with that of our city. I hope to be a council member that can help bridge the space between the more tenured neighborhood groups and the aspirations of the renters and folks who want to live in these neighborhoods. We should be inclusive and provide a space for everyone in Austin.

Alex Strenger

The primary objective in all of this is to minimize these conflicts from occurring in the first place. My goal as a councilman is to create a more inclusive Austin while also making sure that longtime residents still feel welcome here.

What policies and approaches will you advocate to promote neighborhood improvement, and avoid neighborhood protectionism, as Austin changes and grows?

David Chincanchan

I believe that housing is a human right and am committed to ensuring quality, affordable housing throughout our city. In order to do that I will fight to implement the recommendations in our Strategic Housing Blueprint, to adopt a more equitable Land Development Code, and to champion initiatives that further Fair Housing goals.

Austin is experiencing a housing and affordability crisis, with housing shortages driving displacement and gentrification. As a Council Member, I will help address this crisis by advocating for a new Land Development Code that encourages workforce housing and a greater diversity of housing types, especially along major corridors and in activity centers. I will also push for bold investments in affordable housing and for utilizing publicly-owned land to create more affordable housing, in order to better ensure housing access for families of all income levels.

Additionally, I believe that Council needs to implement processes that ensure our plans serve as living documents that grow and evolve with our city and with subsequent policy changes, rather than as static documents that do not account for our present realities or anticipate our future needs.

Casey Ramos

Instead of taking out a bond for a rail we may not be able to use for 10-15 years, I would propose a more immediate and necessary Public Works Trust Fund to upgrade our stormwater infrastructure system, or lack there of. Hundreds, if not thousands, have already been displaced by flooding. This would serve two purposes. Service a serious need to reduce flooding in our neighborhood while stimulating the economy as we would award the contracts to qualified individuals and companies within our district. I would also advocate for the public to take out an Income-Based Housing Trust Fund. Once again, this serves a serious need for housing in our district while stimulating the economy as we would award all contracts to individuals and companies in our district. Both of these bonds will cost a fraction of the $9 billion dollars the City is proposing for a rail and will not increase our taxes by 25%. These two bonds will help generational Austinites have the right to stay in their city and neighborhoods they have helped to build through decades of property taxes keep those who want to overdeveloped out.

Vanessa Fuentes

I think we need leaders who can balance these community demands. Everyone wants to feel heard and deserves to be heard. We deserve a fair process. I think this comes back to strong leaders who are willing to listen to all sides and make the smart decision for that neighborhood.

Alex Strenger

Well for starters, we need to remove many of the burdensome fees and regulations associated with people making improvements on their properties. We also need to stabilize our tax rate so that longtime home owners don’t feel threatened by forthcoming changes (often positive) to their neighborhoods.

What policies will you advocate to address affordability, defined as the combined cost of housing, transportation, and utilities, for Austin families?

David Chincanchan

Housing, utilities, transportation, and childcare are some of the biggest expenses for families in our community. I have a strong record of pushing for policies that support affordability for working families – and am committed to continuing that work.

Affordability means housing that working families can afford, transit that ensures access to jobs, groceries, schools, and healthcare, and childcare services that are reasonably priced and accessible. I have a strong record of pushing for investments in these areas, both through my work as a chief of staff for a City Council Member and through my time on campaigns.

During my time as a Council staffer, I worked on supporting the largest housing bond in the city’s history, as well as supporting historic investments building out our multi-modal infrastructure. In 2016, I took a leave of absence from my job at City Hall to serve as the Deputy Campaign Manager and Political Director of the successful $720 million mobility bond which helped secure $37.5 million for sidewalks, $27.5 million for Safe Routes to School, $26 million for urban trails, $20 million for bikeways, and $15 million for Vision Zero – in addition to the $482 million to make improvements to many of our city’s major corridors.

As a Council Member, I would be committed to continuing to fight for real affordability in our community, including by:

  1. Adopting a new Land Development Code that provides for a diversity of housing types, especially along our major corridors and in our activity centers;
  2. Investing city resources in creating affordable housing, especially in high-opportunity areas;
  3. We need an affordable, practical, incremental comprehensive multi-modal transportation plan that correlates with the city’s long-term development plan (Imagine Austin) and serves all areas of the city.
  4. Strategically utilizing publicly-owned land to create more affordable housing in a diversity of housing types;
  5. Supporting Project Connect and, if approved, ensuring that we deliver on its promises for frequent, reliable, and accessible transit;
  6. Building out a robust multi-modal network of sidewalks, safe routes to schools, protected bike lanes, urban trails, and other pedestrian and bike-friendly infrastructure;
  7. Creating a city-funded and city-issued housing voucher system, as well as a program that incentivizes property managers to accept these vouchers, including through low- or no-interest property repair loans and lease signing bonuses;
  8. Ensuring robust tenant protections in all projects receiving city assistance, incentives, or bonuses, including source-of-income protections, just-cause eviction protections, notice-before-entry provisions, and anti-retaliation measures, among others;
  9. Funding eviction counseling and tenant advocacy programs;
  10. Codifying tenant rights, including the right to organize and the right to resolve rent, fees, or other lease-related charges prior to eviction;
  11. Expanding the city’s pilot “Right to Return / Right to Remain” policy, which grants affordable housing unit priority to households with generational ties to East Austin;
  12. Acquiring existing multi-family and mobile home park properties to create community land trusts, particularly in areas susceptible to gentrification;
  13. Expanding assistance programs for emergency mortgage relief, no-interest home repair loans, and free weatherization programs offered through Austin Energy; and
  14. Providing affordable childcare services by creating and stabilizing high-quality daycare centers that accept childcare subsidies, expanding high-quality Pre-K education, and funding new childcare subsidies to address our community’s waitlist.

Casey Ramos

Refocus on the most important aspects of the land code: prioritize the needs of current residents & discourage their displacement; preservation and construction of truly affordable and income-based housing, streamline & update technology of the city’s inefficient permitting process, and return to the community planning districts; Fix the problems with existing neighborhood & small area plans; Enforce the adoption & implementation of policies addressing will housing, watershed protection, equity, and equality.

Vanessa Fuentes

Transportation costs are increasing as Austinites spend more and more time in traffic. I am supportive of Project Connect, though I wish there were more in it that would benefit the District 2 community. Austin is one of the largest cities in the nation with such an underbuilt mass transit system. We have to do something now to plan for the projected level of growth proactively, combat climate change, and provide an affordable, safer transportation option to help improve affordability in Austin. I’d like a bus yard stationed south of the river, and will be actively advocating for it as it will help us ensure reliable and consistent bus service for South Austinites. Additionally, Prop A contains a significant investment in anti-displacement efforts. If passed this would be the largest investment our city has ever made to help prevent displacement. Also, I support the full funding and implementation of the Sidewalk Plan, Urban Trails Plan, and Vision Zero plan.

Alex Strenger

Like I said in the 1st question, we need to create a system where those who make up the backbone of our city have ample opportunity to thrive and prosper here. We also need to do a better job of building 3 and 4 bedroom apartments so that families can afford to live downtown. Austin, TX is also leading the way in micro-mobility and carbon free transportation and we need to do a better job of providing these services to all areas of Austin, not just downtown. As for utilities, we need to put a system in place that better rewards residents for using Solar Panels as well as reducing our dependency on fossil fuels.

District 4

What policies will you advocate to enable the full abundance and diversity of families to live in whichever neighborhood they choose?

Gregorio ”Greg” Casar

I sponsored and passed two of the 10-1 Council’s most significant Code amendments: a) Granny flat reform which got rid of lots of the rules that were incentivizing the creation of a large new home as opposed to a granny flat behind an existing house and b) Affordability Unlocked, which in one year is supporting the creation of 2,500 low-income homes, along with middle class homes, in our city– by changing regulations that favor parking lots and large homes as opposed to more affordable housing.

I support a new land development code that allows for us to reach our housing goals– and therefore stop exacerbating displacement, sprawl, long single-occupancy vehicle drives in traffic, and flooding. We need to create smaller and more affordable housing options, while including protections like the equity overlay and recently passed protections for mobile home residents in order to make sure any new Code recognizes historic inequity and helps slow gentrification.

Ramesses II Setepenre

I’ll have to see what legally I can do as a councilman with specific policies.

How will you resolve conflicts when the wishes of some incumbent residents in a neighborhood conflict with the aspirations of other residents and the interests of the larger, city-wide community?

Gregorio ”Greg” Casar

Our current land development code is exacerbating housing prices, is reducing housing options and making us more segregated, is worsening flooding, and is making us a more congested and polluted city. We need a new code, in addition to other major policy changes, to make our city better for our people. I have worked hard to build a consensus amongst a majority of Council members on how to get to a new code. This means working across Council districts and communities to 1) get everyone on board with major needed change 2) reach compromises as well that do not hinder the bigger picture. We have to keep foremost in our minds the needs of current residents (and future generations) with less political power.

Ramesses II Setepenre

I’ll have to see what legally I can do as a councilman with conflict resolutions.

What policies and approaches will you advocate to promote neighborhood improvement, and avoid neighborhood protectionism, as Austin changes and grows?

Gregorio ”Greg” Casar

I believe in organizing for the well-being and raising the voices of people who are too often excluded from the political process. Overwhelmingly, struggling parts of our community need more affordable housing options, not fewer, need increased public transportation options, and want better jobs and a cleaner environment. I will continue to fight for these issues, and to bring everyday people to the table to get there.

Ramesses II Setepenre

I’ll have to see what legally I can do as a councilman— I’ll inquire expert opinion, and then deliberate.

What policies will you advocate to address affordability, defined as the combined cost of housing, transportation, and utilities, for Austin families?

Gregorio ”Greg” Casar

I’ve been fighting to make transformational change to our city’s affordability — otherwise, primarily working class communities of color like District 4 will eventually cease to exist. We must work to transform the city’s priorities to really focus on inclusion. Recent efforts to change the city’s priorities include:

  1. I led the effort to get $250M in affordable housing on the 2018 ballot, the largest low cost housing bond in Texas history
  2. I helped get $300M in anti-displacement dollars packaged into the Project Connect referendum this year
  3. Advocated to put Props A & B on the ballot that would increase opportunities for lower cost transit, walking, and biking over single-occupancy vehicles
  4. The newest proposed land development code rewrite which changes our rules to stop creating incentives for new McMansions, and instead focuses on middle class housing options with access to public transportation
  5. I co-led the effort to establish an Equity Overlay within the new land development code, to ensure that communities vulnerable to gentrification have additional protections as we add new housing; while also ensuring we add new housing in a city, because the current land development code is part of our accelerating housing prices.
  6. Helped establish and fund the RENT and RISE programs, which is providing nearly $20M to help cover residents’ housing costs who’ve lost their jobs or income due to COVID
  7. Sponsored the Anti-Eviction ordinance that, paired with the Mayor’s Anti-Eviction order, is keeping families from being evicted due to COVID-19’s health and economic effects
  8. Helped establish BASTA, a tenants rights organization that organizes primarily tenants of color; and will push for expanding more tenants rights
  9. Protected mobile home communities that had previously been rezoned for commercial development, by rezoning them back to mobile home. Worked with one of these communities to establish the first cooperatively owned (rather than corporate owned) mobile home parks in the city.
  10. Will work to expand tenant ownership of buildings, public ownership of buildings, and expand a city-based housing voucher program.
  11. Hold the state accountable for preventing us from having more progressive tax structures, while fighting locally to contain sprawl which damages our city’s fiscal health
  12. Ended unfair utility bill subsidies for some of Austin’s biggest companies, and ended the tax loophole that allowed some of Austin’s most expensive properties on Lake Austin to not pay city taxes
  13. Helped establish and expand our weatherization programs to create green jobs and reduce electricity bills
  14. Raised the city’s minimum wage to $15/hour plus paid sick time for City employees and contractors doing City work, and will continue to expand that minimum wage to other sectors as allowed by law

Ramesses II Setepenre

Living wage, affordable housing, micro-apartments/micro-homes, removal of $200 utility deposit, internet access as utility, improving public transportation.

District 6

What policies will you advocate to enable the full abundance and diversity of families to live in whichever neighborhood they choose?

James “Jimmy” Flannigan

Austin faces extreme income inequality, and I have and continue to champion policy changes promoting affordable housing solutions, fiscally responsible budgeting, and efficient use of taxpayer funds.

The overarching goal we adopted on Council when setting out to rewrite our city’s land development code was to achieve a community in which all types of housing could be built in all parts of the city for all types of people at all income levels. I was a leading voice on land development code reform, and while I didn’t like every compromise made, it is unfortunate that it did not proceed.

We cannot deny the impacts of supply and demand. Many of the regulatory changes in the land code rewrite could have helped create more affordable homes at many price-points – the expanded affordable housing bonus program, but also changes in lot size, compatibility, unit restrictions, parking, and other regulations. Ultimately we make it too hard to build housing in this city. We have allowed a 40-year old land development code, rooted in historical racism, to target re-development to the very families who then feel pushed out of their own communities, further undermining the power and stability of homeownership in our community. I have taken many hard votes trying to enable and support more housing, both market rate and with affordability restrictions.

Mackenzie Kelly

Austin has been diverse in its economic layout since before I was born and raised here. People of all economic statuses live across the city and that is part of what makes Austin a wonderful place to live. I would support bringing jobs to Austin in order for individuals wanting to live in higher-income areas to be able to do so. I would also support educational opportunities in order for people to have access to job training and skills to make a better wage.

Dr. Jennifer Mushtaler

I believe that decisions regarding zoning and regional transportation can have significant positive impacts on inclusion and diversity. I will advocate for policies that protect the property rights of existing residents and engage those residents in growth planning and, when needed, acceptable compromise.

Dee Harrison

City building codes, housing and development policies, and taxing decisions all play an integral role in community diversity and inclusion. I will advocate for making strategic urban planning decisions while providing for the safety and security of our citizens and protecting the property rights of homeowners, individual taxpayers, and small business owners.

How will you resolve conflicts when the wishes of some incumbent residents in a neighborhood conflict with the aspirations of other residents and the interests of the larger, city-wide community?

James “Jimmy” Flannigan

Every issue facing the city is challenging and complex and requires balanced input in order to reach solutions. No city does more work to solicit public input than Austin, and further, no council member has done more to engage the District 6 community than I have. I use a data-driven decision making process while having conversations with affected parties.

I have assembled a great team at City Hall and together we’ve built strong relationships with our constituents, who know they can reach out to me and that I will always respond to everyone, no matter their opinion or political affiliation. Because I have served in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, I understand how local decisions affect our residents and businesses, what effective advocacy looks like, and how to govern in a way that creates the best outcomes for the most people.

Mackenzie Kelly

I’ve always been a fan of transparency and open communications regarding changes to residential areas. Property owners and renters should have a say in the changes that are being made to their community. In order to mitigate any conflicts before they begin, I support having town halls and community meetings regarding any changes that would occur to their neighborhoods. I’ve found that by having active conversations and listening to all stakeholders we are able to get buy-in from everyone involved. One specific complaint I’ve heard while block walking in my district is from residents who have been annexed and feel as if their needs are not met and they are frustrated with the choices our current council is making. By holding these meetings and listening to the concerns, then taking them into account, we’d have a better representation on the council for our community.

Dr. Jennifer Mushtaler

I participated in a recent neighborhood coalition meeting, and I what I heard from residents east to west to north to south is a common desire to protect their homesteads from gentrification that would price them out of their lifelong or retirement homes, to preserve sites of historical significance, and to feel safe in their neighborhoods. I believe that we have much more in common than what divides us. We need leadership that begins with our common principles to build on equitable and safe development for our future.

Dee Harrison

There are numerous techniques to resolve conflicts, but the one thing they all have in common is that they all begin by listening to the people involved. The next step is to identify common ground. While the City has a duty to provide for the overall needs of its residents, it should not dictate policy that elevates the needs of one community over another.

What policies and approaches will you advocate to promote neighborhood improvement, and avoid neighborhood protectionism, as Austin changes and grows?

James “Jimmy” Flannigan

During my term, I have worked hard to deliver targeted and specific neighborhood improvements in my district including new parks, sidewalks and pedestrian safety infrastructure. Since mobility is consistently named as one of the biggest frustrations in my district, I have also taken on larger projects such as Anderson Mill corridor improvements, adding D6 roads to the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, and working with TXDOT and CTRMA to identify and fund improvements on 620 and 183.

As Austin changes and grows, we must promote housing policies that allow for a diverse housing stock to exist across the city. Austin residents care deeply about their neighborhoods and want to be able to afford to stay in the city. Austinites also generally understand that our population continues to grow, and that all of our new residents need places to live. Our housing supply is tighter than anywhere else in the nation at the moment. We need to be able to employ more dynamic land use codes with more transit-oriented developments, dynamic mixed use, recreation spaces, and which encourages smaller lot sizes and the ability for homeowners to easily add another unit onto their property if they so choose.

Mackenzie Kelly

There is no doubt that the City of Austin is growing by leaps and bounds. With this comes the problem of voices in the community feeling as if they are not being listened to. To the extent that COVID precautions will one day allow, I would be more than happy to meet with homeowner associations, community leaders, and neighborhoods on a regular basis in order to ensure they are being heard. As Austin changes and grows, I would protect parks and wildlife areas. I would advocate for road improvement, including fixing potholes throughout the district. I would advocate for funding to complete improvements to the 620 and 2222 area. Currently, those roads are not only a danger to the residents that utilize them but they also are over capacity and require improvements.

Dr. Jennifer Mushtaler

The majority concerns around growth center on topographic concerns, commuting, quality schools and safe neighborhoods. When we address flood risks, wildfire risks, traffic mitigation and livable neighborhoods, we make it easier for existing neighborhoods to embrace growth. I want to be clear in my campaign that I believe that we can advocate for property rights and neighborhoods while simultaneously creating responsible non-discriminatory growth.

Dee Harrison

Homeownership is the largest investment an individual makes. As such, homeowners constantly strive to improve and protect their investment. This is generally accomplished in a variety of ways, through city codes, deed restrictions, homeowner associations, etc. It is not negative “neighborhood protectionism” if existing homeowners, specifically seniors, wish to stay in their homes and retain the character of their neighborhoods. As a City, we need to be more flexible in our approaches to growth. For example, in District 6, we have more acreage in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) than any other part of the city. We must provide an achievable foundation for fire wise communities and improved wildland fire suppression projects.

What policies will you advocate to address affordability, defined as the combined cost of housing, transportation, and utilities, for Austin families?

James “Jimmy” Flannigan

Austinites face the challenges of affordability in many ways: housing costs, transportation costs, rising taxes, rising rents, and more. I have a proven track record and have been an outspoken advocate for finding budget efficiencies and reallocating resources in a way that squeezes the most out of our public dollars. I have voted against budgets in the past and have held the line on police and fire contracts, which resulted in saving taxpayers millions of dollars – work that has continued with my leadership on public safety reform. I have also worked to keep Austin Energy and Water rates as low as possible.

Make no mistake – property taxes are high because of the state’s failure to properly tax the state’s significant economic growth and places the burden of education funding directly on the backs of Austin’s taxpayers. City taxes represent just 25% of a property-owner’s bill and within that 25%, almost all of it is related to public safety and voter-approved bonds. The “non-essential” services represent a very small fraction of the tax bill, but are incredibly essential for those who rely upon them – community centers, public health resources, and parks & libraries.

Regarding transportation, implementing the vision of Project Connect is critical to the mobility of our region. It is the high-capacity system that our city has so desperately needed for decades, and would provide legitimate transportation alternatives to just driving alone. The parts of Project Connect that improve the Red Line (increasing to 15min headways), improved commuter service with a new park and ride in the Four Points area, and providing rail service to the Airport are particularly valuable to my constituents in District 6. Perhaps most importantly, it would create an independent oversight body to manage the implementation using the most fiscally responsible and sustainable funding source through a tax rate election.

Mackenzie Kelly

It’s no secret that with rising property tax rates in Austin that it is becoming increasingly difficult for residents to continue to live in Austin. I would advocate for residents to be able to afford to live in Austin by encouraging the City of Austin to do an external city audit. This was voted down in 2018 by voters, but advocates for the audit suggested the reason was because of the confusing ballot language. By finding wasteful spending in our city we would not only be able to lower property taxes but also help residents continue to live here. Additionally, I am against the proposal for Project Connect. Using standard bond funding calculations, Project Connect will increase taxes on the average-priced property over $2,800/year to fund and operate (according to Our Mobility Our Future PAC). At a time when most of our taxpayers are working from home or are unemployed due to COVID, I find this to be an awful tax burden and will make Austin much less affordable for residents to live here.

Dr. Jennifer Mushtaler

Affordability begins with fiscal responsibility of our tax dollars to minimize these burdens, particularly on lower/middle income wage earners. I will advocate for audits of our major expenditures and opportunities to eliminate ineffective programs or wasteful spending. As for housing specifically, I will facilitate streamlining of the permitting process.

Dee Harrison

We must protect and enhance the City’s community lifelines that have been interrupted, and in some instances diminished, by COVID-19. This public health crisis has adversely impacted our small business owners, our workforce, our economy, and our schools. We need to take a hard, strategic look at our long-term infrastructure improvement projects, to decide if they still reflect the changing needs of our residents and leverage existing affordability programs. We must ensure fiscal responsibility and stop taxing individual homeowners and small businesses out of the City.

District 7

What policies will you advocate to enable the full abundance and diversity of families to live in whichever neighborhood they choose?

Morgan Witt

As councilwoman, I’ll work for legislation that creates additional housing opportunities for everyone in all parts of the city, especially inside the loop. This includes updating the land use code to be more inclusive and expand land development options where currently there exists only single-family zoning. It also includes addressing restrictive policies like NCCDs in Austin’s central neighborhoods, as well as diversifying the types of homes that are built in Austin’s central neighborhoods (including ADUs, fourplexes, apartments, and other multi-unit dwellings). I also want to strengthen the city’s relationship with renter advocacy programs to protect the rights of 55% of Austin residents and ensure equal representation in city planning and development decisions. I also want to invest in Affordable Housing and permanent supportive housing programs for those in our community experiencing homelessness.

How will you resolve conflicts when the wishes of some incumbent residents in a neighborhood conflict with the aspirations of other residents and the interests of the larger, city-wide community?

Morgan Witt

One thing we seem to forget is that Austin has a documented vision/plan for growth (which admittedly is in dire need of updating) in Imagine Austin. This comprehensive plan, in its current and future iterations, should be the focal point of any conversation related to neighborhood development. Discussions on projects and proposals should be centered around one starting question: Does this project/proposal help us achieve the goals of Imagine Austin? Using the IA plan as a focal point of conversation will make it easier to objectively evaluate proposals, make decisions, and measure quantifiable progress.

To also promote collaboration and buy-in on these projects, I’d proactively ensure all parties have a seat at the table when we discuss Austin’s housing landscape, especially those typically underrepresented in these conversations (not just renters, but low-income residents and communities of color). The reality is that affordability and land development is not an either/or issue — it’s not homeowners versus renters, like we’re so often led to believe. There are solutions to our housing shortage and affordability crisis that benefit everyone, and that can capture Austin’s iconic character while creating more diverse housing options in the city.

What policies and approaches will you advocate to promote neighborhood improvement, and avoid neighborhood protectionism, as Austin changes and grows?

Morgan Witt

The short answer is that I would work to actually implement the Imagine Austin plan. In addition to rewriting the antiquated land development code to create missing middle class housing, I’d focus on streamlining zoning and development policies/processes so the system is quicker and more efficient. We also need to look at Affordable Housing (not just implementing effective incentive programs, but also “baking” AH into urban planning so it becomes an integral part of all neighborhoods), and make serious and long-term investment in anti-displacement programs that build resilience in communities vulnerable to being pushed out. I’d also commit to added investment in existing neighborhood revitalization programs.

What policies will you advocate to address affordability, defined as the combined cost of housing, transportation, and utilities, for Austin families?

Morgan Witt

As a renter and a former teacher, I know all too well the combined struggle of finding affordable housing close to my job and the disproportionate transportation costs that come with it. I know others face even steeper challenges than I do.

Housing, transportation, and access to resources are all interconnected — and closely tied to equity, too. Without a comprehensive transportation network with alternatives to the car, what’s the value of compact urban development? We’ll be forever building new infrastructure to keep up with urban sprawl if we don’t center housing and jobs around transit. And what is the value of compact development with no transportation network to support it? Our most vulnerable communities rely on public transportation for access to resources and economic opportunity.

In addition to the housing change mentioned in the first question, I support Project Connect as an essential public service that we need to invest in. I’d love to see a connection to Tech Ridge; investment in anti-displacement programs; and investment in bus shelters, benches, lighting, trees, and accessible sidewalks to complement the light rail and bus systems. Accessibility is also a high priority and we should fully fund the Austin Bike Plan, Sidewalk Master Plan, and Urban Trails Master Plan. I’d also look into other ways we can support people without cars, like greater rebates for electric bikes and public transit subsidies for low income residents.

District 10

What policies will you advocate to enable the full abundance and diversity of families to live in whichever neighborhood they choose?

Robert Thomas

I interpret this question to be focused on affordability and affordable housing, and will answer accordingly. As to the general question of affordability, a municipality can control affordability issues through its management of its tax rate and budget. This is the primary area for a council to exercise the kind of appropriate fiscal responsibility that impacts affordability. In that regard, I would strive to bring fiscal restraint back to the budget, reassess expenditures across the board in non-core municipal functions, and seek to fully enact the previously promised (but unfulfilled property tax relief), and push for the full city audit that the council opposed by crafting horrendous proposition language to ensure that the proposal failed. Why did such a good idea even require to be a proposition? However, there is no magic simplistic answer. There are very difficult, challenging steps that can be taken. John Sharp’s performance reviews for the state of Texas (and Carol Keeton Strayhorn’s local government audits) are fundamental to honestly starting on the road to Austin affordability. Credible, independent, timely, time-sensitive audits of the city, city departments, city budget, and processes would be the very first step. This would one public document intended to drive a comprehensive and strategic overhaul of all things city. And, this must be made public and transparent – with a commitment that there will be no sacred cows. This will require passing and methodically implementing a transparent, reasonable, incrementally affordable, detailed and metric driven 50 – 100 year plan for all city infrastructure and municipal service needs. Execute sensible strategic plans lawlessly, on a “pay as you go” model as is possible, so voters can decide if they trust the city with planning, execution and budgeting. Don’t build it, they won’t come failed, but so too will build it at any cost.

As to the affordable housing component of this question, please incorporate the answer to the next question.

Alison Alter

I support allowing duplexes and ADUs in residential zones and I support changes to the code that make it easier to construct these types of housing units in a manner that is compatible with the mass and scale of surrounding areas. I co-sponsored the Family Homestead Initiative with Mayor Pro Tem Garza to make it easier for renovations, additions, and the development of ADUs. I also co-sponsored a resolution which directed our staff to develop pre-approved plans for ADUs to allow individuals to save costs in developing them. I support increased density along Imagine Austin corridors and activity centers. I am in favor of allowing housing in existing commercial zones (excluding within Industrial Zoning or where it is otherwise not recommended by our professional staff for health and safety reasons) and I voted in favor of “Affordability Unlocked” to create deeply affordable units in any part of the city.

Pooja Sethi

Austin needs more housing. We should have a development code that is clear and easy to use. I support density, where appropriate, including ADUs, mixed-use and multi-family housing, and building up transit oriented development to reduce sprawl. We should have a housing plan that aligns with transit to address mobility barriers in many of our communities. Without an increase in housing options and housing overall, Austin won’t be able to sustain its growth. I also support a land development code that seeks to increase housing units while improving water quality, decreasing flood risk, and maintaining green spaces and the current level of impervious cover.

How will you resolve conflicts when the wishes of some incumbent residents in a neighborhood conflict with the aspirations of other residents and the interests of the larger, city-wide community?

Robert Thomas

By having a streamlined, clear and understandable LDC. I do not support the current version of the LDC. It is a bloated, excessive, complicated mess that has cost over $10 million and taken over 8 years, only to be to be derailed just before the 3rd and final council vote when Judge Soifer found the city violated state law by intentionally failing to individually notify property owners of potential changes to the zoning of their land, and failing to recognize Austin homeowners’ legal right to protest changes to the zoning of their land under a citywide revision.

The city also failed to stay true to, and finish, the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan. That planning process is not perfect, but at least it was inclusive, allowed for neighborhoods and planning areas to have input, without jeopardizing the essential elements of the communities. Growth is good, and should be welcomed, and Imagine Austin was an effort to do so with an element of transparency and area level buy in. The LDC that the council almost passed, but for Judge Soifer’s intervention, obliterated the neighborhood protections built into the Imagine Austin plan.

Having a vibrant, living, balanced and straight forward LDC, that aligns with a healthy 50-100 year master plan, is the singularly most important thing we can do to address both the housing shortage and the rising cost of housing. A good LDC will create regulatory “simplicity” and predictability, reducing the time and expense for redevelopments, remodels, developments, etc., thus reducing the time to get diverse housing stock on the market. It would also reduce the friction between the various constituencies, as it would remove the code ambiguities and inconsistencies that many argue result in “gotcha” situations. As a Board Member of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, I have a keen understanding of the need to support, and encourage, policies that promote broad and diverse housing growth, development and redevelopment that in turn promote a COMPACT and a CONNECTED city (ie. the concept behind Image Austin and TODs). Within each of our compact and connected areas of the city and region, we need the appropriate mix of housing stock and appropriate multimodal transportation options to meet the diverse socio-economic realities of a healthy and growing city. In addition, I would support economic development policies that bring good/solid middle wage paying jobs to our area to help people afford more of our housing stock. I would also support training and retraining programs that allow our citizens to increase their wage earning capacity to compete for those better paying jobs.

Alison Alter

In my district I’ve worked extremely hard to prevent conflict and help neighbors and developers to work collaboratively to create optimal outcomes. Since taking office, large major developments have not dragged on for years the way Austin Oaks and the Grove did, because I worked to facilitate active problem solving and allow residents to participate actively in a process that was compatible and realistic with responsible development. I always believe it is important that the community feels like they have a seat at the table, and that we are listening closely to the concerns of neighbors to understand whether we have opportunities to solve problems or mitigate concerns. In nine times out of ten I believe we can find common ground and reduce conflict. It’s important that we grow our city in a way that creates the community assets and infrastructure that is necessary to ensure a high quality of life for both future and current residents. That means we must ensure large developments invest in adequate mobility infrastructure, parks and greenspace, and environmental mitigation. For smaller infill projects, we must ensure they do not exacerbate flooding or other safety concerns. I do believe we can balance those interests to achieve smart and responsible growth and that conflict can be avoided when we do not demonize residents and when we listen closely to legitimate concerns and work to identify opportunities to resolve them that are realistic in any given situation. If concerns cannot be resolved, we should proactively identify why demands cannot be met and determine if alternative options or strategies exist. In cases where parties are intractable, I work very hard to understand the information and exercise good judgement on whether a good faith effort has been made to ensure good outcomes for the city and make a decision that balances the concerns of existing residents and allows us to grow responsibly.

Pooja Sethi

Citizen engagement is essential for a functional and accountable government. As a city council member, increasing accessibility and making our government more transparent and accountable is a priority for me. Information about the council actions and agenda should be easy to find, available in multiple languages, and include common sense explanations. I would advocate for more citizen engagement and town halls–especially before major votes, a simplified public input process, and exploring child care options during council meetings. In the past, I have held town halls in my role as a commissioner, I would continue to do so as a City Council member and create a District 10 Neighborhood Ambassador Program to reach people in the neighborhoods, have open discussions about the needs of my district, and also explain the needs of Austin as a whole.

What policies and approaches will you advocate to promote neighborhood improvement, and avoid neighborhood protectionism, as Austin changes and grows?

Robert Thomas

See portion of the preceding answer regarding the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan.

Alison Alter

I voted for “Affordability Unlocked” which allows deeply affordable units in all parts of the city and in every neighborhood. I support opportunities for neighborhoods to engage in thoughtful planning to target growth and change. I believe we should be guided by our Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan which recognizes the importance of planning and that a compact and connected city relies on creating centers, nodes, and lines of transit. In my view if we actually adhered to that plan we could achieve growth where we need and want it without unnecessarily getting stuck in the quagmire of up zoning the interior of neighborhoods. The best way to reduce concerns about growth and density is to be able to point to good, smart, and high-quality development that becomes assets for communities and neighborhoods. We should be ensuring that we are creating that type of development and change and using those as opportunities to demonstrate that compatible and high quality development can occur in ways that enhance neighborhoods.

Pooja Sethi

On city council, I know there will be difficult votes and issues, but I know how to balance my own perspective with the views of District 10 residents, the needs of the district, and the good of our city as a whole. I also want District 10 to be a part of all policies that get passed. We need voices on the council that will unify our city and create long-term solutions to bring our neighborhoods together and make our city a place where everyone feels safe. I would come up with long-term solutions that benefit our district and Austin as a whole. I have been working on the ground in Austin for years, and have been successful bridging our communities. I know what it means to meet with our residents, bring voices to the table that have never been heard, and truly represent District 10 and Austin the way it needs to be represented. I would discuss potential votes with constituents before I take them, and come back and explain why I voted the way that I did to the district. I would also implement a District 10 Neighborhood Advisory Council, have monthly town halls around the district, and work on solutions together. So as we push for transportation and housing, we need a council member who will help our district truly understand how we work together as a city. If we are fighting for housing, we need to discuss affordability issues in our city, we need to discuss our first responders, our teachers, and our seniors who cannot live in the city that they work and grew up in, and we need to have real conversations with residents about how we move forward as a city in a way that benefits all of us.

What policies will you advocate to address affordability, defined as the combined cost of housing, transportation, and utilities, for Austin families?

Robert Thomas

“See affordability answers, above. In addition, advocate against raising taxes above the state limit of 3.5% over prior years. Moreover, the current council’s budget should not be seeking to raise taxes at all, especially in the current economic climate. With a combination of increased property valuations and increased tax rates, affordability has become a pipe-dream buzz word. Any tax rate increase must be completely and unequivocally justifed to our citizens, and the city does not make the case convincingly, or well.

We are faced with a struggling gig-based economy that has been decimated by COVID-19, yet the Council wants to raise taxes by 25%. How can our council members consider funding pet projects that will take decades to come to fruition when our food banks are seeing record levels of need? I fully and completely support compressive and inclusive multimodal transportation solutions for Austin, and have advocated for them since 2011. However, Project Connect is too much, will take too long, cost too much to maintain and operate, all while making Austin hugely unaffordable for the current citizens. Moreover, the city has not shown that it can execute against a global, comprehensive strategic plan with specifically detail metrics, oversight and accountability that is reported to the community in a meaningful way. It should be funded with a match of guaranteed federal and state dollars, as well as shared financial responsibility with the extra-ordinary MSA municipals and counties who serve as home communities for Austin commuters.

If Austin is to remain a desirable place to live and do business, infrastructure improvements and investments in multi-modal transportation solutions should be our top priority.

  1. We must invest in roadway infrastructure growth, as well as public transit options.
  2. We need to re-envision the existing delivery of public transportation options. I am not convinced that we are utilizing the existing options in the most cost effective, efficient or transparent manner. An audit of best practices should be done, much like John Sharp did as Comptroller for the State of Texas.
  3. We need an affordable, practical, incremental comprehensive multi-modal transportation plan that correlates with the city’s long-term development plan (Imagine Austin) and serves all areas of the city.
  4. The region should consider a state new authorized regional transportation authority that replaces the patchwork of various entities that currently existence in order to streamline transportation development plans and to coordinate federal, state and local funding resources to solve regional traffic congestion. Finally, there must be patience, but with deliberative and thoughtful action. It took 50- 100 years to get to be one of the most congested cities in America. We will not get out of this mess overnight.

Lets develop a plan of significant, but incremental steps, to show proof of concept that don’t require unfathomable sunk costs, and lets show the public that we can be responsible and positively impact their commuting experience in order to better understand what really does work, and that the city /region can be trusted as fiscally responsible and pragmatic, affordable solutions oriented.

Alison Alter

I’ve worked hard to ensure our utility costs are not rising and we’ve managed to keep those costs in check and in many cases reduced them. In particular, this budget cycle I sponsored a budget rider to bring our Austin Water utility discounts to many multifamily properties and Austin renters living in those properties who had previously been excluded from the discount due to the metering infrastructure. For years the legal department and our utility had felt we could not offer those discounts to those multifamily renters because of the way a single-joint meter worked in our billing system. Thankfully those concerns have been allayed and I believe before the end of the year we will adopt that discount program and bring enhanced utility bill relief to thousands of Austin Water customers who are renters and low-income.

I know the value of a robust transit system and I supported Project Connect being on the November ballot. I look forward to the voters’ choice on making that critical investment in our transportation infrastructure. Throughout the process I made sure the Project Connect team prepared a plan that had a sound fiscal framework that covered operations and maintenance as well as the capital investments needed for a comprehensive light rail and bus transit system. I’ve also supported our affordable housing bonds, and our investments to prevent displacement in the Project Connect budget.

I continue to support zoning reforms that would allow: duplexes and ADUs, increased housing on transit corridors and in Imagine Austin Centers, allowing residential use in commercial zones, and streamlining our permitting system to allow costs and wait times to be reduced. I also believe that the city should partner with the University of Texas at Austin and other area universities to provide dorm facilities for their students. UT has failed to invest in living quarters for their students for a long time, contributing to our affordable housing crisis. Such investments could free up thousands of existing affordable units that then could be available to families.

Pooja Sethi

Making Austin more affordable is a priority for me. A recent study by Move.org found that Austin is the least livable U.S. city for minimum-wage workers. On City Council, I would support increasing affordable housing in collaboration with neighborhoods to make our city more affordable. I also support the creation of an Anti-Displacement Office to ensure our city remains affordable and families are not getting pushed out of our city. It is also important to factor in any public transportation plans with our housing plans. Thus, we need to include more multi-family and mixed-use housing with access to transportation to address mobility barriers in our low and middle-income households. We also need to move toward providing resources equitably across the city. We must invest in schools, childcare, after-school care options, and education opportunities in lower-income neighborhoods. Finally, we need to address the wage gap discrimination and a lack of job opportunities in Austin and implement policies to move towards a more equitable city.