Austin City Council takes important step toward affordable housing

Let's face it -- living and working in Austin is expensive.
"Our low-income folks spend more than 30% of their gross income on housing.  57% of the average working family's budget is spent on housing and transportation and that's not sustainable in this city or any city," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

Austin ISD trustee Paul Saldana says Austin teachers on average only make about $48,000 a year.

"On average, we lose about 800 teachers a year.  We lose about 1,000 students a year largely in part because of various affordability issues...and we're losing our experienced teachers and staff to neighboring school districts because they are able to provide higher salaries and lower home prices," Saldana said.

Well in the near future it may be much easier for Austin teachers to live closer to work.

A joint committee of the Austin City Council, the Travis County Commissioners Court and the Austin ISD board of trustees have approved a resolution that directs each entity to seek adoption of a measure identifying public land suitable for public housing.  Kind of wordy, but basically that means the city, county and school district  will try to find some public land they already have that can become affordable housing for low-wage workers.

"What you see here today is an effort to work collaboratively in really getting something on the ground in the near future," said Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo.

Tovo says the intent is to serve the lowest levels of affordability.

"Certainly we want to see some housing for teachers, that's clearly been identified as a priority.  But all 3 of our entities have lower-wage workers that are struggling to stay within Austin," she said.

Also at Council Thursday morning, a resolution was approved to identify some city public land that can be used as affordable housing for anyone in the community who needs it.

Aside from some amendments, the major pushback was from Council Member Don Zimmerman who feels the idea deepens economic segregation.

"I think the city should be identifying properties that could be sold to the private sector for development.  And then to also ask our staff to bring the top 10 most conflicting and costly ordinances that our builders are trying to comply with that drive up the cost of housing, the in-feasibility of housing and provide virtually nothing for the constituents," Zimmerman said.

As far as the City, County, AISD partnership for low-wage workers, Tovo expects there to be a proposal on the table by December.