Mayor Adler says Austin faces affordability, mobility issues in State of the City address

Forrest Milburn

It was standing room only in the ZACH Theatre Tuesday night as Austinites crammed into every seat and space possible to hear Mayor Steve Adler give his second State of the City address.

Since he was elected in November 2014, Adler said he and Austin City Council have helped the city become a more innovative city that is more energy-efficient, fostering a growing economy.

“As the mayor of Austin, I’m often asked what the ‘secret sauce’ is that makes us magical and a center of innovation and creativity,” Adler said. “Cities from all over the country and all over the world send entire delegations … in hopes of finding the magical formula written on a whiteboard somewhere in someone’s office.”

In 2015, Forbes magazine ranked Austin as the third-best city in terms of job growth, with 925 million jobs in the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area.

While Adler touted Austin’s high economic growth and abundance of jobs compared to other cities of the same size, the city still faces a number of issues — including affordability and mobility — in becoming a more inclusive city that many imagine it can be.

“What good does it to do to create all these jobs if you can’t get to the one you have because you’re stuck in traffic?” Adler said. “How does Austin’s prosperity benefit us all if the real estate prices are attractive to out-of-town investors, but increasingly unaffordable to the people who already live here?”

As a major step in combatting gentrification and segregation affecting the east side of the city, Adler announced the council has already appropriated enough funding to conduct a housing affordability audit looking into structural issues that further divide the city, a “first-ever audit of its kind,” Adler said.

“My father lived here in the 80s, and the thought at the time was ‘you don’t want to live east of I-35,’” said Zach Rodriguez, human development and family sciences senior. “We shouldn’t allow that thinking to continue.”

In addition to affordability issues, Adler said traffic problems and other mobility issues have increased as more and more people move into the city.

To combat growing mobility issues, Adler said the city must be more innovative in developing a more efficient transportation infrastructure, possibly through approving and building an urban rail that can efficiently connect each part of the city to the rest.

“We should use all options on the table, including urban rail, as a possibility,” said Joe Deshotel, Travis County Democratic Party communications director. “It’s time to finally take action, and I think that there’s a lot of encouraging words we heard [tonight] from the mayor.” 

While Austin still has a long way to go in becoming a great and big city, Adler said he is proud of the work he and the council have accomplished and the problems it will continue to address at City Hall.

“We, the council, are in this together, and we need to focus on the things that are important,” Adler said.