Austin City Council‘s $925 million bond proposal includes historic ask for affordable housing


Austin City Council is now poised to ask voters this November to support backing a $925 million loan—one of the largest in Austin’s history—to fund various city projects in exchange for a 2-cent property tax rate increase for the next 30 years.

The proposal is highlighted by a $250 million allocation to affordable housing, the highest such allocation in city history. The package also includes $45 million for parkland acquisition, $12 million for land acquisition for creative spaces and $40 million for city pool renovations.

Following three hours of public testimony and two hours of deliberation, City Council voted 8-3 in favor of the proposal. Council members Jimmy Flannigan, Ellen Troxclair and Ora Houston dissented in favor of a more conservative approach.

If approved by voters, the bond package will carry a 2-cent tax rate increase for the next 30 years. For someone with a $300,000 home, this will result in an added $60 per year, or $1,800 over the life of the bond.

In 2016, voters approved a 30-year, 2.25-cent tax rate increase in exchange for a $720 million bond for mobility projects, which remains the largest voter-approved municipal bond in city history.

A historic vote

The supportive council members took time to recognize the historic nature of the proposal, which comes amid the city’s ongoing affordability crisis and a strong push in the community toward equity measures.

“This is the most important investment in affordable housing this city has ever made,” said District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, who has been pushing for a historic affordable housing allocation for the 2018 bond. “This is going to be a very powerful investment in ourselves, our families and our future.”

The $250 million proposal is a drop in the bucket, however, in Austin’s affordable housing need. According to the recently approved housing plan, the city carries an affordable housing shortage of 48,000 units, which experts estimate would cost $6 billion to fulfill.

Although City Council voted in favor of the proposal, it is only a proposal. Council will vote again in August whether to put the question on the ballot, and in November, voters will get the final say.

In 2012, voters rejected a $78.3 million affordable housing bond but a slimmed down $65 million affordable housing bond passed the following year, marking the most money allocated to the effort in city history.

District 10 Council Member Alison Alter supported the proposal, but said she preferred staff’s recommendation of $161 million for housing. Alter stressed the risk council was taking with such a large proposal. If voters reject the bond in November, no money goes to affordable housing. Alter said she wanted city staff to poll voters before council votes again in August.

District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen said she was confident in the voters.

“This is a historic level of funding for housing,” Kitchen said. “From my perspective, it is time we had that conversation with the community. I hope the community is ready. I think they are ready.”

Bond breakdown

If history is any indicator, the bond package will be presented in seven questions—one for each category of funding—that voters will address separately:

  • $250 for affordable housing
  • $38 million for public safety
  • $160 million for transportation infrastructure
  • $184 million for flood mitigation and open space
  • $149 million for parks and recreation
  • $128 million for libraries and cultural centers
  • $16 million for health and human services

Other highlights of the proposal include $3 million to move the Austin History Center to the old Faulk Library, $68.5 million for bus lane and city street improvements and $50 million to replace the Red Bud Trail/Emmett Shelton Bridge over Lady Bird Lake.

Editor’s note: A previous version for this story miscalculated the money allocated to land acquisition for creative space, parks and recreation and library and cultural centers, as well as the historical nature of the bond. 

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  1. Why not a billion dollar bond package with a 50 percent property tax increase? Or how about a trillion?

    Guess what people, WHEN PROPERTY TAXES GO UP, SO DOES THE RENT. Which will not make housing in any way, shape, or form “affordable” How about cutting regulations, City Manager pay, along with the pay of high level municipal employees? Won’t do that, will you City of Austin.

    Thank God I left Austin.
    I guess y’all don’t miss me.

  2. A massive list of “wants” as city leadership drags its feet on traffic congestion relief and public safety “needs”. The City already owes $10,315 per citizen to repay current debt: That does not include the HUNDREDS of MILLIONS approved, but unspent like the $720M “mobility” bond, or all the County, ACC, Central Health and AISD loans ($1B 2017 bond coming to your tax or rent bill).

    The City is using a lot of smoke and mirrors to produce their voter misleading $0.02 narrative. Let’s calculate the bond using conservative assumptions: 25 year term, Current certified tax roll with 10% increase ($140.8B), 4.25% interest rate and $925M principal:
    > Amortized annual payment = $60.7M ( )
    > Tax rate required to raise the ‘annual payment’ = $0.043/$100 ($140.8B x .00043)

    The 2017 Travis County Appraisal District category A “average taxable homestead value” for property in the City, is $343,416.00. That equates to a tax INCREASE on the average home of $147.66/year ($3,691.50 total) NOT $60!

    Now comes the same old SMOKE AND MIRRORS: The City will declare they aren’t going to use all the bond money right away – but you’re AUTHORIZING it ALL right away. They will proclaim the tax base will increase, however it has also declined, what’s their plan “B”? Pay close attention, because as tax base/appraisals increase, so do rents and tax bills. They assume stealth tax increases up to the rollback rate (8% per year), NO increase in the City budget and NO legislation in the next session to limit outlandish City tax increases (highly unlikely now that Straus is out as speaker). When all else fails, scream RECAPTURE!

    As the City re-distributes homeowner funds to meddle in the free housing market, perhaps it should also buy a “bridge”in New York and “oceanfront” property in Arizona.

  3. This bond will cost double what you’re being told. Why does the City (and local school districts) feel the need to mislead and deceive the public? This bad behavior must stop. Travis County won an award for providing the true cost or their 2017 bond to voters; they are unique.

    To prop up the $0.02 fairy tale, the City must assume no future increases in the City budget and ever escalating appraisals (that will drive higher tax bills and rents). Texas Bond Review Board records show City debt repayment exceeds $10,300 per person – not including the recent $720,000,000 mobility bond. Add to that, AISD’s 2017 $1,000,000,000 bond and existing debt, 2017 County bond and existing debt, ACC debt and Central Health debt. Where is our fiscal sanity? If growth slows, we will be in deep trouble and our “leaders” have no plan “B”.

    Hundreds of millions in borrowing for “wants”, as “needs” like traffic and public safety go unresolved is unacceptable. We deserve better; send a message – VOTE NO!

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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