NNA: What would you do to improve the diversity of housing stock in Central Austin, creating more opportunities for affordable housing without sacrificing the quality of life for existing residents?
Casar: Abundant and diverse housing is critical for the quality of life for all our residents: new and existing. If we continue to promote sprawling development as we grow, we hurt our environment, we reduce the effectiveness of already struggling public transportation, and we promote higher rents and higher taxation for existing and new residents.
Through the comprehensive land development code rewrite– known as CodeNEXT– we can incorporate more opportunities for affordable and attainable housing types across Austin. In North Central Austin, we’ve often allowed for increased density and housing capacity, by allowing things like granny flats in neighborhood plans: it will be important for all the other parts of Austin to do their part as well.
I’m also supportive of mixed-income housing. The upcoming development at Koenig and Lamar is a good example of this: because nearby residents supported Vertical Mixed Use, we’ll all benefit from units at a range of prices for families of different sizes and incomes, along with new retail opportunities at the edge of the neighborhood.
NNA: What is your view of the changing demographics of Central Austin?
Casar: I think cities are at their best when they create environments where individuals and families of different backgrounds, incomes, ages live and prosper together. In Austin, we’re losing many of our working people– and working families in particular– from the urban core. We must take an “all of the above” approach to tackling this challenge.
Council Member Renteria and I authored, and the Council passed, the Fair Housing Initiative– an “all of the above” approach to better integrating our city. This initiative and others will subsidize more housing, disperse affordable housing, promote a variety of housing sizes and types, and more. But it will take years of effort to be successful. I’m absolutely committed to getting Austin off the list of Most Segregated Cities in America.
NNA: What could be done to improve mobility in Austin?
Casar: I believe the transportation bond on this November’s ballot is a step in the right direction. It will make critical investments in our sidewalk and bicycle infrastructure, and will get roads like Airport Blvd and Lamar Blvd into the 21st century.
Once our major corridors are re-engineered to maximize their efficiency, though, we’ll need to think beyond roadway capacity. We cannot expand roads in the central city (the cost would be astronomical, and this would be terrible for our neighborhoods), so we must look to mass transit to increase mobility. I am a supporter of getting more urban mass transit on the ground as soon as possible– including a potential rail line down Lamar and Guadalupe. I also believe that by adding more retail and office space along our corridors, we can reduce the distance you have to walk or drive to get to work or the store.
NNA: What do you think are the 3 most important quality-of-life issues that need to be addressed?
Casar: Apart from the issues of affordability and mobility described above, I regularly hear from constituents about the need for City Hall to support our kids and their educational opportunities, and the need to support our seniors. We’ve worked hard as a new City Council to provide wrap around services at our Title I schools, to bring green space to our urban parks deserts, and to provide legal assistance to parents with young children– especially those in disputes with their landlords that may result in evictions and family homelessness.
I’m encouraged by the possibilities the ACC Highland campus brings to our communities and for our youth. We also must address the struggles our seniors face in staying in their homes and neighborhoods. We’ve taken important steps raising the senior exemption, but we must also look at ways of providing options for our seniors other than paying an unsustainably high tax bill and moving out of the neighborhood. I believe in planning an all-ages friendly city.
NNA: What are your top priorities for Austin’s budget?
Casar: The large majority of Austin’s general fund budget is dedicated to public safety. That’s logical, because of the significant expenses of running the police, fire, and emergency services departments. I believe, also, that basic human services– such as homeless shelters and mental health services– also are critical expenditures for ensuring our public safety. We should invest in police stations and ambulances: and we also should invest in the social services and health services that can attack the roots of crime and the roots of health emergencies. This is both the right thing to do and the fiscally responsible thing to do.
I’m also committed to ensuring that the City of Austin is run effectively. When I found out that our DNA evidence lab was unacceptably years behind on processing sexual assault evidence, and that the lab was shutting down because of improper scientific practices, I’ve prioritized the swift and accurate pursuit of justice.
The other largest component of our budget is Austin Energy & Austin Water. I’ve prioritized lowering rates for everyday residents, and I’ve championed ending special, lowered rates for large corporations. I also believe we need to aggressively pursue more renewable energy sources, and retire our polluting coal plants as quickly as is responsible.