Save Austin Now supports several City Council candidates, avoiding Proposition A

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Despite initially coming out against the city of Austin’s $350 million affordable housing bond on the November ballot, Save Austin Now has not made a significant campaign or fundraising effort against the proposal.

Co-founder Matt Mackowiak said the group isn’t “necessarily opposed to affordable housing bonds in isolation,” but also said that without reforming the systems in Austin that make it easier to build and buy affordable housing, the bond money will go to the wind. That’s why, Mackowiak explained, the group has leaned toward endorsing City Council candidates they think will get the job done.

“When you’re leading an organization, one of the challenges you sometimes face is that if you get involved in everything, you’re not going to be as effective as if you just pick a few things and do them really well,” Mackowiak said.

Save Austin Now entered the political scene just over two years ago. In particular, he brought the petition that put Austin’s camping ban — which passed — on the ballot in the May 2021 election. Since then, he has been critical of city policies that affect public safety and accessibility, among other issues.

Brian Smith, a political science professor at St. Edward’s University, says that unlike the May 2021 election, this one is likely to draw more voters because it’s a midterm election — meaning PAC money for bond issues could have less impact. Also, “the city of Austin seems to win more bond elections than it loses,” he said.

“There’s no throwing money down the drain in politics,” Smith said simply.

The Austin Affordable Housing Bond will appear as the City of Austin Statement A on voters’ ballots this November. If passed, it would free up hundreds of millions of dollars for the city to build, buy and improve affordable housing for people with low and “moderate” incomes, according to the ballot language.

“We are bleeding people. We’re just losing a lot of the diversity that makes this city special,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said when the bond was discussed earlier this year. “One of the most successful proven tools we have in this city is affordable housing and affordable housing bonds.”

The project will be financed by general obligation bonds that are paid for through your property taxes. According to a city of Austin document, someone with a taxable property value of $500,000 would pay an extra $66 a year for the next 20 years. The expected financial impact can be seen below:

Estimated impact on tax bills when the tax rate is fully implemented if the City of Austin passes the affordable housing bond proposal (Courtesy: City of Austin)

Although Save Austin Now is not campaigning against the bond, the group is beginning to reveal who it supports for city leadership. SAN has so far endorsed Richard Smith for Austin City Council District 8, Greg Smith for District 9 and Clinton Rary for District 1. More endorsements may come later.

“In the three districts where we’ve felt confident supporting candidates, we’ve already done so,” Mackowiak said. He said they followed forums, interviewed candidates, reviewed their social media and sent out questionnaires to arrive at these endorsements.

“While we won’t always agree on everything, I appreciate the input and support of those who are willing to stand up and make a difference,” Greg Smith said in part. “An elected leader should represent all viewpoints, not just those he agrees with. I am honored to have the support of Save Austin Now for this very reason.”

Brian Smith said that while voter turnout won’t match what we might see in a presidential election year, heated midterm races across the state are likely to draw Austin voters to the polls.

“The big-level elections — the governor’s race, the attorney general’s race, the lieutenant governor’s race, those three big races — that’s going to drive voter turnout in Texas. And because of that, that means we’ll have higher voter turnout for municipal council and mayor,” he said.

Early voting begins on October 24. The deadline to register to vote for this election has passed.

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