Editor's note: CultureMap Austin is proud to partner with Leadership Austin — the region's premier provider of civic and community leadership development — in this series of editorial columns meant to inform Austinites about the upcoming City of Austin proposition elections to be held Nov. 6.
In the past several years, as I have served Austin on the City Council, I’ve become increasingly concerned about a growing divide that could result in an Austin separated by affordability, quality of life and opportunity.
While I’m always proud when headlines proclaim how Austin compares favorably to other cities, I’m also consistently dismayed when, beyond those statistics and rankings, we hear the stories of friends and neighbors who are struggling to afford to live in our great city.
Each week, my colleagues and I work to address affordability and to actively bridge divides, so that citizens can have safe streets, regardless of which street they call home, that we all can enjoy well maintained parks and access to housing and employment, regardless of where we live in this city.
Here in Austin, as elsewhere, an affordable quality of life involves many factors, but for most families, the cost of housing makes up their household’s biggest expense. If we are to address the overall affordability that has the potential to divide our community we have to make several important efforts, but investing in and supporting housing is one of the most crucial.
It is important to me that the teacher of our children, or the firefighter that gets the emergency call, or the nurse that’s working the night shift can all afford to live within the community they serve.
In calling for the 2012 bond package that will be decided on by voters this November, this city is asking to invest in a wide range of critical needs and infrastructure from public safety facilities to our parks and libraries. I am supportive of the complete bond package for its broad and positive impact for Austin, but of particular importance is the amount dedicated for affordable housing.
In 2006, Austinites approved $55 million for affordable housing that was leveraged with an additional $177 million in outside funding to create 3,055 new homes and apartments available to moderate and fixed income households over the past six years. In addition, the housing bonds have funded the cost-effective home repair assistance programs that have allowed hundreds of families to afford to stay in the homes they already live in.
Importantly also, bond funding has helped to start this city towards our goal of providing Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) which is a proven and effective tool for helping the homeless off of the street and into lives of self-sufficiency. It is a goal that we must continue to pursue because, as expert studies on the homeless have repeatedly shown, we pay a far higher price for not addressing the critical need of the homeless.
The homeless community costs Austin taxpayers millions of dollars in emergency room care, mental health facilities and unemployment. It is fundamentally less expensive to address this problem through PSH than to perpetuate it in today’s frayed safety net.
This potential for millions of dollars in savings in how we address homelessness is a prudent use of public resources and it is a critical driver for me in pursuing this initiative. I cannot, however, fail to also acknowledge the human costs of inaction on homelessness. In Austin, we hear reports of people dying on the streets every few days, including women, children, veterans and the elderly. It is a sobering statistic, but one that I’m very urgently committed to addressing, and this upcoming 2012 bond package will provide the resources for us to begin to do so.
While in so many ways the affordable housing bond of 2006, now depleted, was a great success story of leveraged investment and lives changed, the needs of our growing city have not diminished. Voter approval of the complete $385 million bond package on Nov. 6 will be an essential investment in maintaining Austin’s quality of life in the future, and the $78 million Affordable Housing proposition in particular is a critical next step in addressing some of this city’s greatest challenges for all of its citizens.
Importantly, supporting Propositions 12-18, which authorize these investments in our community, will not increase your taxes, because it is within our existing voter-approved bonding capacity.
Please join me on Nov. 6 in voting in support of the 2012 Bond Package.
Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole is an alumna of the Leadership Austin Essential Class of 2000. She was a panelist at the Oct/ 10 ENGAGE Breakfast Town Hall event with KXAN News. The opinions of Leadership Austin alumni and faculty members are their own, and do not represent an official position of the organization.