Council approves affordable housing program, decides to call election on 'soccer' petition

This past November, voters approved $250 million in bond money for affordable housing. On Thursday, council passed an item intended to help make the most out of that money. Anyone in Austin whose ever tried to build anything will know, there's a lot of red tape to get through -- a thick rulebook.

Council Member Greg Casar introduced a resolution called "Affordability Unlocked" that will remove some of those barriers when it comes to building affordable housing.

A residential development will have to prove eligible for the housing program.

Casar says the initiative will increase the number of affordable homes in Austin by up to 500% in some locations. Mike Gerber, the CEO of Austin's Housing Authority says they don't want to negate Austin's well-defined construction process but there are challenges.

"A slow process for site reviews, for permits, parking requirements, compatibility requirements.  These are all things that are important but the combination of them can slow down development and can also raise costs," Gerber said.

Gerber says Council Member Casar's resolution will streamline that process.

Also, related to Austin's Major League Soccer stadium deal: There was a petition drive intended to make sure voters get a say anytime a sports or recreational facility is going to built on city-owned land.  

The 29,000-signature petition was turned in by a group called "Friends of McKalla Place" and validated. Council could adopt what the group wanted or put it on the ballot.

Obviously they didn't adopt it and the Mayor says they'll call an election at a later date. 

Even though the "Friends of McKalla" group feels differently, the Mayor emphasized this election won't have anything to do with the McKalla deal because the city has already entered into the lease.

But the Mayor and Council Member Casar claim it's a bad policy that could affect other venues in the future. "The Zach Scott Theatre, The Millennium Center...even the YMCA center on Rundberg Lane in my district.  So at best the whole thing is a frustrating waste of hundreds of thousands of city dollars and at worst it's a corporate power play that could come at great expense to Austinites," Casar said.

I asked Marisa Perryman with Friends of McKalla Place if they were hoping this would affect the McKalla deal:  "We were hoping, yes and there's still hope.  I don't agree with some of the statements the Mayor said today.  I think there is still hope with that.  I think he was a little misleading," Perryman said. The City Clerk says the special election will cost around $500,000.



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