Austin City Council takes on affordable housing, homelessness and police shortage

It's been a busy week for the Austin City Council, taking on everything from housing and homeless issues to the ongoing police shortage. 

Austin City Council member Mackenzie Kelly from District 6 joined FOX 7 Austin's Mike Warren in studio to discuss.

MIKE WARREN: You know, the council approved reducing lot sizes in Austin, which now opens the door for single family homes to be converted or made into more affordable ro homes, townhomes, etc. There was a lot of public comment on that topic. Now, you voted against this measure. What was your reasoning for that?

MACKENZIE KELLY: I absolutely voted against this measure because I feel that we don't have the current infrastructure in place to really actually allow for more density in areas. One of the examples I gave yesterday was related to the domain and EMS services that are currently being provided there. There is no public safety infrastructure directly in the domain. And so as they are pulling call volume in that area, there are resources being pulled from other parts of Austin which are leading to increased response times. And it's potentially dangerous for residents because of the density in that area.

MIKE WARREN: Something else the council approved creating a reserve police force. Can you explain what that is, how that would work?

MACKENZIE KELLY: Yeah, Well, as many people and your viewers know, we are currently over 333 police officers short. So we have those vacancies there at the police department. What this aims to do, the reserve officer program is really allow for officers who've honorably retired to come back during special events and work barricades and different safety measures there during those events. There's no impact to our council budget or our city budget because it will be paid for by the promoters. And that really just allows for both visitors and those that live here to stay safe and allow our patrol officers to not only help us out in our different districts across the city, but decrease the tax on them and the burden that they have related to being overworked.


MIKE WARREN: And talking about public safety, the city budget was also released this week. Is enough money going to public safety?

MACKENZIE KELLY: We currently have plenty of money in the budget to cover the vacancies. What I'm going to be focused on as far as public safety goes is ensuring that we have the infrastructure in place to hold enough academies to bring in individuals from the community in order to work in those positions. One of the things I was very disappointed in was to find out that an aerial firetruck that was approved for purchase through a resolution that I brought forward this year was not in that budget. And we won't see that in the budget until 2025. So I'm still digging into the details, and I'm looking forward to finding more areas of opportunity to improve public safety in the city of Austin.

MIKE WARREN: City Council also approved using the marshaling yard near the airport as a temporary homeless shelter. Is the council taking the right approach to providing shelter for those people who are in need?

MACKENZIE KELLY: Well, there's no doubt in my mind that we have a lot of individuals on the streets that are experiencing homelessness that need a place to go. What the marshaling yard aims to do is essentially provide a temporary space for them to be instead of being out on the streets and not receiving the services that they need. I felt that it was being done a little bit hastily. A lot of council members expressed concerns yesterday that they were not able to see any plans regarding what was actually going to happen there. Council member Corddry from downtown brought forward an amendment that would slow down the process and authorize the negotiation of a contract instead of execution. But ultimately, council as a whole had a great discussion regarding what an emergency situation we're in and how we are not enforcing Prop B, which the voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of. This will allow us to have that space to send individuals experiencing homelessness to, and council is going to keep a close eye on ensuring that we are providing the best services possible.