We also have to work on affordability. While our work on affordability is nowhere near finished, and will continue as long as our economy continues to grow, we’ve taken real steps to help ensure that people who work in our city can afford to live here, too.
The first thing we think of when we think about affordability is housing prices, and that’s where we’re making important progress.
For the majority of us that don’t own homes, rents are finally leveling off. Supply has increased and is now finding greater balance with demand. Rents were flat last year, and anticipated to be flat this year, too. While not the only factor, housing supply’s impact on housing cost is real.
The Council is also increasing the supply of subsidized affordable housing. Since this City Council took office in 2015, we have increased spending from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund by 530%.
From the time we took office until now, this City has incentivized or co-invested in the construction of more than 2,000 completed income-restricted affordable units – and more than 6,300 are in progress. Important leadership has come from Council Members Casar and Renteria and others of our colleagues on the Council.
For homeowners, we are making progress on permitting reform to make it cheaper and easier to add on a bathroom to your house. The expedited permitting program this Council approved last year is producing big results this year, with a tenfold increase in expedited permits. Nearly all the projects completed through Expedited Permitting got their permits within one day after a review meeting.
We’re refunding those inexplicable jumps in water bills, and with Council Member Troxclair’s leadership are making sure that does not happen again. For seniors and the disabled, we increased your property tax break for the third year in a row. And we lowered Austin Energy electric rates. But we’re not done yet.
We need to give seniors and the disabled another property tax break for a fourth straight year, and this year we should cut water bills for everybody.
The affordability crisis is hitting our musicians and artists particularly hard. This is not new, but what is new is how the Council is moving forward to help, working with artists and the Music and Arts Commissions to implement the Music and Creative Ecosystem Omnibus Resolutions. We’re moving forward with professional development and on revenue opportunities with a busking pilot, a Facebook Live series, and a Live Music Venue Best Practice Guide.
Last week, we passed CM Kitchen’s ordinance focusing on preserving and creating spaces for our creative communities. The new Chapter 380 incentive program now being developed city-wide will propose a focus on encouraging new creative spaces.
I want to call out the leadership of Gary Keller who is helping to take care of musicians and music venues…
…Gary is but one example of how our city benefits from the extraordinary yet quiet work of many of our citizens.
There is one music/creative arts initiative that deserves special mention. We’re seeing promising results with the successful trial of later, live music hours on Red River! After twenty years of… let’s be honest… of warfare, music venues and nearby residents are working together to ensure both the vitality of the live music scene and the peacefulness of our neighborhoods. That’s not an isolated example…
Within the next two months, artists, venues and residential property owners will bring to Council an “Agent of Change” proposal with consensus rules governing new sound in old neighborhoods and new neighbors near established venues.
This is an example, perhaps one of the best examples, of how Austin needs to move past the old paradigms of “who’s fighting who” in our city, and into a future where we value collaboration, listening to and respecting each other. We need to find the truths in each other’s realities. That is the only way we preserve the best of our city.