Here’s what $925 million buys the city of Austin

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As we’ve talked about before, City Council on June 28 gave its preliminary approval to a $925 million bond package that will be presented to voters on the November ballot.

Technically, the vote only instructed city staff to put the bond package together and Council will still have a chance in August to make some final changes before voting to put it on the ballot. However, I don’t sense that there will be any major changes. Here’s what the bond entails, according to the city’s extraordinarily responsive finance staff:

Affordable Housing- $250 Million:

Rental Housing Development Assistance Projects ($94 Million) Rental Housing Development Assistance (RHDA) program increases or maintains the supply of affordable rental housing by addressing the rental housing needs identified by the City of Austin’s Continuum of Housing Services, including Permanent Supportive Housing and other affordable housing facilities.

o   Acquisition & Development (A&D) Homeownership Program ($28 Million) The purpose of the A&D Homeownership Program is to address the need for affordably-priced ownership housing within the city.  Housing developed through this program are to be owned and occupied by low- to moderate-income households.

o   Land Acquisition ($100 Million) This new forward-thinking initiative will enable AHFC to acquire and hold land, including acquisition of publicly-owned land, for future use with the potential to achieve multiple community benefits, including affordable housing development. The land can be developed by AHFC or be offered to non-profit or for-profit affordable housing developers.

o   Home Repair Program ($28 Million) Funds will be needed to carry out minor home repairs and rehabilitation throughout the community. Through the GO Repair! Program, the City contracts with seven nonprofit organizations that provide critical life safety repairs to low- and moderate-income homeowners’ homes

I haven’t heard many critiques of the affordable housing bond except from those who are against taxes/spending in general. However, back in November AustinPolitics.NET power user Julio Gonzalez criticized the homeownership and home repair programs. In advocating for a $270 million bond (at the time, the staff recommendation was only $85 million), Gonzalez said the following:

The homeownership program in the staff recommendation unhelpfully contributes to price inflation without generating additional supply; and the jury is still out on whether the home repair program actually reduces involuntary displacement in gentrifying areas.

A better mix would be $200 million for Rental Housing Development Assistance, $50 million for land acquisition, and $20 million for a Transit-Oriented Development fund that provides zero interest loans and grants for new Accessory Dwelling Unit construction.

OK, on to parks…

Parks and Recreation- $149 Million:

o   Aquatics ($40 Million)  Funding for a new Colony Park Pool and renovations to existing City pools

o   Building Renovations ($21.5 Million) Funding for renovations/rehabilitation of existing facilities and assets, including ADA and safety improvements

o   Infrastructure   ($17.5 Million) Funding for improvements to playscapes, trails, parking lots and roadways, athletic fields and facility improvements, and improvements to the City’s cemeteries

o   Parkland Improvements ($25 Million)  Funding for development of existing City parks, including greenbelts, neighborhood parks, district parks, metro parks such as Roy G. Guerrero Park and John Trevino Jr. Park, and the Downtown Squares

o   Parkland Acquisition($45 Million) Funding for the acquisition of land, including publicly-owned land, for new parkland, such as a destination park in the Oak Hill area and Lions Municipal Golf Course, infill parks and greenbelts

Again, none of this attracted much controversy publicly, but there’s a dedicated group of pools advocates who are seething. You’ll recall that there was an aquatics task force that called for $120 million for repairing existing pools and building four new ones. Instead, we’re getting one new pool and a few repairs.

Transportation Infrastructure- $160 Million:

o   Bridges and Structures ($50 Million) Funding to replace the Red Bud Trail/Emmet Shelton Bridge over Lady Bird Lake and other priority bridges

o    Street Reconstruction ($66.5 Million) Funding for the rehabilitation of existing City streets, bus lane improvements, and cost participation in utility projects

o    Sidewalk Rehabilitation ($20 Million) Funding for the rehabilitation of existing City sidewalks

o   Signals and Technology ($4.5 Million) Safety and mobility improvements, upgrades to signals, controllers, firmware, expansion of communications systems, new signal installations

o    Vision Zero/Transportation Safety ($15 Million) Funding for major intersection safety projects, pedestrian safety improvements, speed management projects

o   Neighborhood Partnering Program ($1 Million) The Neighborhood Partnering Program (NPP) allows citizens to partner with the City to propose small to medium scale projects on City-owned property to improve the places in which they live, work and play

o   Urban Trails ($3 Million) Funding for the expansion of the urban trail network

Ellen Troxclair thought that the $3 million for urban trails was $3 million too much. The fact that we’re only spending 22 times as much on road reconstruction is a slap in the face to motorists.

A more compelling objection that I’m definitely going to look into came from West Austin icon Mary Arnold, who levied some objections to the whopping $50 million price tag for replacing the Red Bud Trail Bridge.

“In 2012, there were bonds in the election at that time and they were approved: $3 million to design a new Red Bud Trail bridge. That was 2012. This is now 2018. And we have nothing to show from that money from the 2012 bond election. Surely a new replacement for the red bud trail bridge can be done for less than $50 million. There was one citizen public meeting in June of 2016 where we could come and see some information about the proposal. But the engineers that you all hired in May of 2015 didn’t complete their contract with the city until spring of 2016. And they have been paid money. I know that. But we don’t know what has come of it. And it’s very, very discouraging that what we see on the website is a huge, enormous thing that seems much too large and seems not necessary to accomplish what they were trying to accomplish with the red bud trail bridge. And I’m opposed to putting this money on the ballot without knowing the results of the money that we have spent on engineers so far.”

CM Alison Alter later said that the city is hoping that CAMPO will chip in some money for the bridge so that the city will be able to use some of that $50 million to build/fix other bridges. She also noted that the bridge was an important connection to our water treatment facility … and that city of Austin water trucks aren’t allowed to drive through West Lake as per some agreement…like any red-blooded Austinite, I don’t like the sound of this. Does anybody have insight into this issue?

Flood Mitigation- $184 Million:

o   Drainage/Stormwater Projects ($112 Million) Funding for flood risk reduction and drainage improvement projects and for buyouts in flood prone areas

o   Open Space Acquisition ($72 Million) Funding for the acquisition of water quality protection lands

Yeah, flood mitigation is some expensive shit. A lot of those buyouts are in the Onion Creek area, where homeowners have been hit by numerous 100-year floods in the last decade. It’s a sad state of affairs.

  • Libraries and Cultural Centers- $128 Million:

Branch Library Renovations ($34.5 Million) Funding for rehabilitation and renovations to branch libraries as well as funding for this first phase of the conversion of Faulk Central Library for archival use by the Austin History Center

o   Cultural Center Improvements ($56.5 Million) Funding for improvements to the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center (MACC), Asian-American Resource Center (AARC), George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, Mexic-Arte Museum

o   Creative Spaces ($12 Million)  Funding for the acquisition or support of acquisition of property for creative spaces

o   Dougherty Arts Replacement Facility ($25 Million) Funding for the complete replacement of the Dougherty Arts Facility

Delia Garza made a big push to increase funding for the MACC and Ann Kitchen added the creative space funding at the end, which is something that is seen as a big part of Austin supporting its artists and, by extension, its international identity as the live music capital of the world.

Then there was some miscellaneous stuff:

o   New Dove Springs Health Center ($16 million) 

o   EMS Station Renovations ($25 Million) 

o   Fire Station Renovations ($13 Million)  

Cool, cool.


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