Prop A a major step toward affordable housing

Raga Justin

Last Tuesday, 73 percent of Austin voters approved Proposition A, a $250 million affordable housing bond that represents a major step to combat Austin’s housing crisis, city experts said. 

Affordable housing has been a buzzword for years now, said Sumit DasGupta, a former technology development consultant and Mayor Steve Adler’s appointee for the task force that came up with the proposal for the bond package. The city has “unmet needs” totaling about $3.2 billion, and Prop A is just the start, Das Gupta said.

“As we go forward, we’ll have to keep spending more and more in order to keep this city affordable for everybody, not just for the rich,” DasGupta said.  

Just the words “affordable housing” don’t mean anything on their own, DasGupta said. Proposition A has four components, each targeting a sector of Austin’s housing situation. First, a $100 million chunk will be handed to the Austin Housing Finance Corporation to purchase tracts of land. The city can then turn over this land to developers who are interested in actually building the affordable housing for low-income residents.

Another $94 million will go to rental housing assistance. The projects developed with this money will increase or maintain the supply of affordable rental housing. A $28 million chunk will address the need for affordably priced home ownership in the city by constructing houses that can only be purchased by residents who fall under a certain income level. 

Finally, the last $28 million will go to an existing housing repair program that hires contractors to carry out minor home repairs in underserved communities across the city. 

“I look at all these people on street corners begging for money, people getting evicted,” DasGupta said. “Winters are getting worse and worse and to think there are people shivering outside, people being denied a shelter over them … this is a fundamental need. Shelter and security are the most important things and these rights should not
be negotiable.”

Though the bond is focusing on the needs of historically underserved residents, students planning to stay in Austin after graduation could also benefit from any increase in affordable housing, even indirectly. Senior public information officer Jeff Patterson said he thought of the bond as a measure that will ultimately improve living options for all residents. 

“It helps everyone,” Patterson said. “The best way to look at it is when we’re able to increase the supply of affordable housing across the city, it benefits everyone because it opens up the market and increases supply. I think of it like ‘a rising tide raises all boats.’”

Madeline Detelich, environmental engineering graduate student, advocated for Proposition A’s approval before it was passed. She said it will impact student renters across the city and increase low-income residents’ options. 

“It’s a scary place out there and most people have the experience that finding a place to rent is terrifying,” Dutelich said. “I am excited about this … the city is going to build thousands of more units which will hopefully make landlords respond to that pressure. We are starting to redefine what’s possible in this city.”