Affordable housing, transportation challenges emerge as recurring issues at Bee Cave forum
Bee Cave council candidates attended an election forum April 15 that was sponsored by the Bee Cave Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Phyllis Campos, general manager of the Lake Travis-Westlake edition of Community Impact Newspaper. (Greg Perliski/Community Impact Newspaper)
All five candidates running for three at large seats attended and addressed issues facing a growing city that has decisions coming before City Council directly impacting parkland development, transportation priorities and future commercial development.
However, a recurring theme to many of the candidate discussions centered around the need for continued economic growth within the city and the importance of service industry workers to achieve that growth.
Candidates said challenges with transportation and affordable housing can make it difficult for those who work jobs at small businesses, hotels and grocery stores in Bee Cave.
“We are talking about people, who are not making a lot of money, and have them drive out 15 or 20 miles or more [that] can be a real challenge, and so looking at ways we can enhance that and make it a possibility for them to come out and work in our great community is something we should explore,” incumbent Kevin Hight said.
Candidates agreed public transportation, at least in the form of a partnership with Capital Metro, would be too expensive for the benefit it would provide, and that the community should focus on finding ways for service industry workers to live in Bee Cave.
“I think we need to figure out a way to get local people to work in the service industries, and the grocery stores, and things like that,” incumbent Andrea Willott said.
Willott and Andrew Rebber, who would be a new face on council if elected, both said that one possible solution is working with private businesses to create vanpools to bring service employees to the area. Another possible solution was offering school credit to local high school students for working area jobs.
“We need service workers out here, and I think there are creative ways to do it, but I don’t think we need to expand government. We certainly do not need to give any of our tax dollars to solve the problem that could be solved by private enterprises,” Rebber said.
Incumbent and Mayor Pro Tem Andrew Clark said he agreed the city should look for ways to have local citizens fill service jobs and that city staff has been updating the Bee Cave council on the concept of workforce housing and what that might mean for the city.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I saw what that looks like in other places like Austin. They are pretty darn nice developments,” he said. “That’s kind of the place to start because that goes for having our teachers able to afford to live here, our firefighters, our police officers and our service workers.”
Willott said in response to an additional question about the local workforce that workforce housing is a good return on the investment.
“Your nurses, your teachers, your firefighters, your police work in the community; they don’t have to commute, and then they spend the money they are making in the community,” she said.
The National Association of Realtors defines workforce housing as housing, both for rent and purchase, that is affordable to workers and also close to their jobs. Affordability can be defined in many ways. A few examples include housing for workers earning 60% to 120% of the area median income or housing that costs no more than 30%-40% percent of income, according to the Urban Land Institute.
However, Bee Cave council candidate Joann Taylor, who has a career background in education, said she has some reservations about the long-term outcome of workforce housing initiatives.
“I have a challenge with the workforce housing because I am afraid it will not be workforce housing; it will just turn into more expensive housing,” she said. “I wonder how you keep that from happening. What is it the City Council does to ensure that it actually stays workforce housing?”
Taylor said she would like to explore whether the city is working sufficiently with local school districts to use technical education courses as a way to give course credit to local students for working local jobs. The Texas Education Agency website refers to the concept as a career and technical education, or CTE.
“There are CTE classes in the schools to allow you to get credit for working, and I don't know if the city is working with the high school,” she said. “So that might be something we could explore.”
Early voting for the Bee Cave council race begins April 19, and election day is May 1. In Bee Cave, voters can choose up to three candidates for the open spots on the council, and the top three vote-getters win the election.