After signing off on the proposal in concept earlier this summer, Austin City Council officially added a $350 million housing bond to the city's November election ballot Aug. 18.
Council voted 10-1 in favor of putting the new proposal before city voters, with District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly opposed. The housing bond proposition will be the first put to city voters since 2018 when a $250 million bond passed with 72.8% support.
Officials had previously pointed to the need for a new round of city funding for local housing initiatives, given that dollars from the 2018 bond are drying up, and as local housing costs for both renters and owners reached new highs this year. Citing those factors, council members voted 8-1-1 to increase the proposed bond's record scope from $300 million to $350 million in late July.
The new bond program is laid out with a focus on the same areas as the housing measure included in the city's 2018 bond package: funding for both rental and ownership housing projects, home repairs, and land acquisitions for future housing projects.
"I’m proud to be part of a council that did the historic $250 million bond, and right now even prouder to be part of a $350 million bond. It’s leveraged so much in the community; the impact on housing in the community has been dramatic. And certainly we’re in a crisis," Mayor Steve Adler said. "We’re building more houses than anybody in the country, and it’s still not enough, so we have to keep our effort to fill these gaps, and this does that. And I certainly hope that it’s something that the community considers and comes out to vote on.”
Austin's three most recent housing bonds—the 2018 measure in addition to propositions approved in 2013 and 2006—have supported dozens of developments with thousands of housing units in the city. Most bond-supported projects have risen up throughout Central and East Austin.
Council's move to order the election came at the tail end of its fiscal year 2022-23 budget and tax rate approval process. Alongside the coming fiscal year's tax rate set at $0.4627 per $100 valuation, the housing bond—if approved by voters—is projected to tack on an additional $0.0132 for an overall rate of $0.4759 per $100 valuation. That figure would bring an increase of just under $48 to the median taxpayer's annual bill, based on city estimates.
Council placed the bond on the ballot with additional direction to prioritize funding projects with more units affordable to lower- and middle-income earners; 50% or less of the local median family income, or MFI, for rental programs and 80% MFI or less for ownership programs. Council's direction also calls for a focus on projects with permanent supportive housing units for those exiting homelessness as well as projects in high-opportunity areas and places at risk of gentrification.
Ahead of the election vote, District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said she hopes to see new bond dollars allocated to the city's Colony Park Sustainable Community initiative. The more than 200-acre redevelopment of an underserved neighborhood on Austin's northeast side has been planned for years, but Harper-Madison said the effort remains "absolutely stuck" in part given a $26 million funding gap.
"This is a neighborhood that we annexed nearly 50 years ago, and 50 years of taxing these residents without providing them the same level of service or resources that so many other Austinites have enjoyed," Harper-Madison said. "We’ve been planning to fix that for a full decade now. While there’s been some—very little—progress, it feels like mainly it’s been promises and promises and more promises and very little action. These residents deserve some very long-awaited follow-through."
While the bond language approved by council does not call out any specific projects or properties, Adler noted the Colony Park project is eligible for bond dollars and said he plans to work with Harper-Madison on securing funding for the project if the proposition passes.
The city proposal is one of several that most Austinites are set to consider Nov. 8 alongside six City Council races. Austin ISD trustees recently placed a three-part, $2.44 billion bond package for campus, technology and stadium upgrades on the ballot. And the Austin Community College board called for a $770 million bond of its own centered on the system's workforce training and new campus additions.