District 4 candidate Greg Casar was gracious enough to provide responses to the questions asked of all candidates by the Northfield Neighborhood Association. Our questions, and Mr. Casar’s responses are copied below.
NNA: The city council lowered occupancy limits in an attempt to reduce the proliferation of so-called Stealth Dorms, but this reduction in occupancy limits will only be in place for 2 years. What would be your commitment to following through on that initiative to ensure the preservation of single-family homes into the future?
Casar: I am committed to preserving Northfield’s unique character, and I’ll work diligently with our neighborhood to reduce the demolition of affordable homes in our area. I credit our neighborhood with bringing this issue to the forefront of the Council agenda, and I intend to make it a priority in my Council office. The current occupancy reduction is only a short-term policy attempting to deal with the long-standing problems in our current Land Development Code (LDC). Our current code too often encourages skirting neighborhood rules along with the demolition, rather than the preservation, of existing affordable homes. We need to ensure there is an appropriate mix of single family and multifamily dwelling units in our area to meet demand and keep prices affordable — I myself live in a multifamiy building in Northfield.
As a City Council member, I am committed to ensuring our LDC re-write process results in a LDC that minimizes loopholes, empowers neighborhoods to designate areas for responsible growth, and is reasonably understandable to everyday citizens — not just lawyers and development consultants. I’m committed to following through on initiatives brought forward by the neighborhood and the community to make sure that two years from now, development rules in Northfield and other high-demand areas preserve our family neighborhood character, our affordability, and the vibrancy and diversity that makes our area great.
NNA: Austin housing prices have increased dramatically over the past 20 years, raising concerns about both affordability and property taxes. What efforts will you take as a city leader to improve housing opportunities in central Austin for people from economically diverse backgrounds. And what will you do to keep increasing property taxes from driving people out of their homes?
Casar: There are things that we can do to make Austin a city whose prosperity is more widely shared, so that the very people who make our city great can be included in Austin’s future.
First, we need to push for tax relief for our residents. That means phasing in a homestead exemption to benefit our homeowners paired with an expansion of utility-bill relief and weatherization so that moderate-income homeowners, renters, and working class people can get the relief they need. I’m ready to launch the honest community-driven dialogue about new revenues and government efficiency so that we can responsibly provide more affordable living for those who need it most. We should not rush into taking steps that could cut social services, parks, and swimming pools for those living around Cameron or Lamar while providing benefits disproportionately west of Mopac. We also must closely examine major cost-drivers in our budgets, including subsidies for new development, maintenance and construction of infrastructure to suburban developments, and responsible staffing levels for public safety.
Second, our city should purchase underutilized land and require that future development of that land include family-friendly housing that’s affordable for everyday Austinites. We should also continue to support funding for housing the neediest in our community, because if we do not act, the Austin of tomorrow may not be the Austin we want to live in.
Third, we need to make sure there is enough housing in Austin for all of us— severe housing shortages result in increases in rents and taxes for everyone. Neighborhood voices, from Windsor Park to Northfield to NACA and everywhere in between, are critical for ensuring new housing is built where it respects current residents and the environment. We also need to pass anti-discrimination rules that will protect tenants’ civil rights to be housed.
Finally, we should hold large commercial interests accountable to pay their fair share of development costs, water bills, energy costs, and property taxes. And if that means we need to get state laws changed, then we need to fight to do just that. When granting major development rights to private enterprise, we should stand strong at the negotiating table and receive affordable housing and jobs with good wages in return. Austin doesn’t have a prosperity problem: we have a shared prosperity problem. My campaign is committed to making sure Austin’s economic engine benefits the quality of life for everyone, not just a chosen few. Austin will thrive if our people have a chance to thrive.
NNA: The City of Austin started a process to improve Airport Boulevard, but there has been no progress in recent years. What would be your commitment to continuing that process?
Casar: I’m committed to reengaging staff and the new Council around Airport Boulevard’s improvement. Especially considering ACC Highland’s grand opening, along with the passage of the ACC bonds, the City should commit to following through on its investments up and down Airport starting at I-35. There has been some debate about whether to delay changes to development rules on Airport in order to wait on CodeNext. I believe that our neighborhoods can lead the way, ahead of CodeNext, to be a model to the rest city—if we
are successful in improving Airport, we can show off how committed leaders can protect our iconic small businesses and neighborhoods, adapt to a changing city, and bring positive, progressive change to our area.
I’m excited about convening our community in District 4 and District 9 so that we can build the political constituency to move this initiative forward.
NNA: What are the most important improvements and initiatives that you feel would benefit constituents in the Northfield Neighborhood?
Casar: Allowing for an adequate amount of housing along the Lamar and Airport Blvd. corridors could help relieve pressure on Northfield properties facing demolition. I’m also committed to continuing a conversation with the University of Texas and our business community about accessible, affordable student housing: it’s important to me that our neighborhood remain diverse, with students, seniors, and families young and old living in close proximity. To achieve this, there must be adequate and affordable housing for students spread out across our city, not just in a few neighborhoods.
In addition, continued investment and expansion of transit lines along our major streets could increase foot traffic while reducing automobile traffic. As more exciting businesses appear on Airport, Lamar, and North Loop, we’ll have to work hard with the city on traffic mitigation, streetscapes, sidewalks, and other improvements to reduce automobile cut-throughs and address threats to our safety.