Saundra Kirk came to speak about “Embracing America’s Melting Pot.” She provided a perspective on the events in Dallas and how they pertain to race relations in Austin. She talked about the gradual dissolution of the “melting pot” ideal of 30 years ago – and that it is unfortunate. She discussed the need to overcome the tacit forms of racism (e.g. affordability of housing, economic opportunity, improved policing practices).
Paul Cruz superintendent of the AISD came to give a “Back to School” update. Graduation rates in the AISD are now up to 86% from the mid-70s. Persistence rate, once students get in to college is 92%. Performance on SAT/ACT higher than the Texas average. 60% of students are in poverty but Austin has the highest rate of “recapture” of funds that are reallocated to the state revenue fund. Austin only keeps 45 cents of every dollar that is collected for property taxes.
Greg Guernsey is the Director of the Planning and Zoning Department. He came to speak about the CodeNEXT process. He emphasized the importance of prescription papers as a means to get feedback from the community. The plan will come out in January, 2017. The code will have 2 parts, the text and the map. Most residents are concerned with the map as that is where the real effect of the code will be seen. He was asked if neighborhood plans will be respected as per Imagine Austin – and responded pretty categorically that they will probably not fully implement neighborhood plans in the new code.
Bill Aleshire is a Government Transparency Activist that came to speak about “Better Transparency in Government”. He cited one of the biggest problems now is record retention. Many local and state offices are deleting emails and disposing of records which prevents proper oversight. For instance, Greg Abbot’s office deletes emails every 30 days. Under the Texas Public Information act, officials are able to keep communications off “on the side” like personal email accounts and the public can’t get access.
Fred Lewis who serves came to speak about CodeNEXT and the “prescription paper” for affordability. He directly refuted the fact that anything about CodeNEXT will help low income people. 82,000 households in Austin make 32K a year or less and are renters. Of the 5 goals in the prescription paper, none of them address affordability. He states clearly, no land use code can create affordability because only 5% of low income people can actually pay for what the market provides. Areas that have more restrictive land use codes have more affordable housing. It’s because they have government programs for affordable housing. Austin has a “density bonus program” that produced 1100 units and $4.8 million. Half of these were in W. Campus for students. Only 220 of the other units were affordable to low income residents. These are mostly market-rate efficiencies that are unsuitable to families.
Two resolutions were proposed:
- Resolution on Department of Neighborhoods in consideration of the fact that the city does not have an effective outreach program to neighborhoods and neighborhood organizations and the pending changes to land use, the resolution proposes to:
- Consolidate existing neighborhood resources into a Department of Neighborhoods.
- Add more advisors to ensure consistent outreach to neighborhoods.
- Resolution on Affordable Housing cited that current policies like the “density bonus program” have failed to meet affordable housing goals. Tshe resolution proposes:
- Linkage fees on all new construction to pay for infrastructure, monitoring of affordable housing outcomes, and affordable housing for displaced low-income residents.
- Require a supermajority of city council before approving rezoning cases that will displace low income families.
- Preserve existing affordable housing through better inspection and enforcement.