As Long As There's a Plan
Council, “people” co-exist on effort to create affordable housing
Behind the abandoned Home Depot at I-35 and St. Johns sits a small “pocket park” – two picnic tables and a few small shade trees in a grassy field. The city has owned the lot, as well as the abandoned building and a neighboring property, since 2008, when it was purchased with the intent to build a new courthouse on the site. Today, it’s one of several properties being eyed by residents and City Council members for possible affordable housing.
“It’s significant,” Greg Casar said Tuesday of the site’s 20 acres, as he pointed out the full expanse. “And now, it’s our compost bin collection.” Hundreds of stacked green compost carts are stored around the blocked-off parking lot. Casar, whose district includes the rapidly gentrifying St. Johns neighborhood, has been one of Council’s loudest affordable housing advocates, and had a hand in getting Proposition A, the $250 million housing bond, onto November’s ballot. If passed, the bond will likely play a large role in converting the Home Depot, among other sites, into housing for low- and moderate-income families. He said, “The reason I really emphasize the housing bond is it’s hard to help as many people as we want to help – and change the course of where the city’s heading – without a significant amount of dollars.” Prop A has already made history as the largest housing bond the city has ever offered to its voters, and could go a long way toward uniting Austin’s split over how to treat its neighborhoods moving forward.
On Sept. 10, a day before Council passed the city’s 2019 budget, activists behind the People’s Plan to immediately address displacement unveiled a budget rider to prove that funding for their plan is feasible. Currently, nearly half of the plan’s budget relies on voters passing Prop A. The plan proposes dedicating $25 million from the bond to fund Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo‘s resolution to create a public strike fund to acquire apartments for low-income families, plus an additional $3 million to fund historic preservation surveys, the enactment of Tovo’s Right to Stay resolution, and an Anti-Displacement Office. The rider suggests that the remaining $30 million needed to fully fund the plan could come from the sale of a city-owned property. Plan budget author Frank Rodriguez believes the city can get a head start on that front, before the proposition goes to the polls.