Austin mayor floats $300M to $500M affordable housing bond vote

Booming city can’t build fast enough

Austin Mayor Steve Adler (Getty, iStock / Illustration by Ilya Hourie for The Real Deal)
Austin Mayor Steve Adler (Getty, iStock / Illustration by Ilya Hourie for The Real Deal)

Austin Mayor Steve Adler is pushing for a vote to sell millions in bonds to help address the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Adler said Monday that he’ll work to get a $300 to $500 million housing bond before voters in November, Bloomberg reported. Adler said the funds are needed to create affordable housing in the city, where rapidly rising real-estate prices have largely put homes out of range for all but the wealthiest residents.

Adler said Austin is adding new homes at a rapid pace, but it’s not fast enough to meet demand in the fastest growing large metro in the United States. “That’s our existential challenge right now,” he told Bloomberg. Median home prices in the city jumped almost 20 percent over the past year to $568,000, Bloomberg reported, basing those numbers on a Redfin report. The city’s population has increased 22 percent, to almost 962,000, in the past decade.

Much of that growth has been driven by an influx of tech companies, some of which eventually move their headquarters with them. Tesla and Oracle have established large physical presences in the city (with a car factory and a corporate campus, respectively), and both recently relocated their headquarters to Austin. Meta, Alphabet, and Amazon have leased office space downtown and in other parts of the city.

That’s true of Texas as a whole, which appeals to companies and their workers with business-friendly regulatory oversight and the absence of income tax. Austin adds the appeal of a large supply of talent coming from the University of Texas and the promise of a creative, entertaining cultural environment.

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Attainable housing for the people who make that possible, said Adler, is necessary to keep the city vital and growing. “The only way to stop the growth is to make this an undesirable place to live,” he told Bloomberg, “and I don’t want to be the mayor that does that.”

The city also needs jobs and housing for residents who don’t enjoy the high salaries that the tech industry brings. “We have lots of jobs that pay $150,000 and more in the tech industry,” he said. “What we need in this city is middle-skill jobs.” Jobs from Tesla’s new Gigafactory in East Austin and from Samsung’s future $17 billion chip factory in nearby Taylor, Texas, could help meet that need, he said.

The mayor said the city had not yet looked into whether additional taxes would be needed to fund the housing bonds he’s proposing. Austin voters approved a record $250 million housing bond in 2018 and $300 million for housing as part of a $7.1 billion transportation bond in 2020.

[Bloomberg] — Cindy Widner

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