BG Reads | News You Need to Know (August 24, 2018)
Austin City Council revives work to increase density bonus fee (Austin American-Statesman)
The Austin City Council has approved a resolution that will restart efforts to increase fees to developers who opt not to build affordable housing units when they participate in the city’s density bonus programs.
Work had been underway to update the fees as a part of CodeNext. But that work stalled when the council killed CodeNext earlier this month.
Under density bonus programs, the city allows a developer to construct buildings taller or larger than what is allowed by zoning rules. In exchange, the developer must commit to building a certain number of low-income housing units as part of the development or to paying into the city’s affordable housing trust fund.
It is generally accepted that the fees are too low, leading to developers to choose to pay fees instead of building affordable housing.
At Thursday’s meeting, Council Member Kathie Tovo attempted to put a mandate in the resolution that would require council approval for all density bonus projects when the developer chooses to pay the fee instead of building affordable housing.
However, Tovo’s amendment was watered down by another amendment by Mayor Steve Adler. His amendment kept language that expressed the council’s preference for developers to build affordable housing, but removed the requirement for the council’s approval.
“I just don’t think that now is the time to do that,” Adler said. “I’m concerned that we may put ourselves in a position where we end up with less affordable units or less money to the affordable housing trust fund.”...
Affordable housing crisis: To conserve or to create? (Austin Monitor)
As Austin struggles with an ongoing shortage of affordable housing, some housing activists and elected officials believe the city’s top priority should be creating new housing, both by allowing the market to build new units that target various income levels and by spending city funds to build subsidized housing for low-income residents.
Others argue that the city should focus more on protecting the low-cost market-rate housing that already exists. Some of the city’s cheapest housing is found in older apartment complexes. In recent years, many of them have been demolished and redeveloped into higher-priced housing.
On Thursday, Council approved a resolution directing city staff to use a portion of city housing funds to “acquire and preserve multi-family developments and mobile home parks that are home to households earning below 60 percent of the median family income.”
The resolution, authored by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, further directed staff to focus on housing within a quarter-mile of high-frequency transit in areas that are “rapidly gentrifying or highly vulnerable to gentrification.”...
Council OKs Shady Lane project on first reading (Austin Monitor)
Council approved multifamily zoning for the Flats on Shady at 1125 Shady Lane on first reading Thursday, with only District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria dissenting. The developers at Barton Creek Capital plan to build about 300 units, with 15 of those units dedicated to people making 60 percent of the median family income.
The property is in Renteria’s district, and his sister, Susana Almanza, was among those neighborhood members who asked Council not to approve the zoning change. Almanza is currently challenging her brother in his run for re-election. She also ran against him when he was initially elected in 2014.
Staff and the Planning Commission recommended the Multi-Family Residence – Moderate-High Density (MF-4) zoning for the Shady Lane property, which is surrounded by properties zoned for commercial and multifamily use. Staff noted that the request was a lower intensity than the Multi-Family Residence – Highest Density (MF-6) zoning granted for the ThinkEAST Planned Unit Development...
Grand jury report slams Travis County tax office for lax oversight (Austin American-Statesman)
A Travis County grand jury that has been investigating fraud at the tax assessor-collector’s office has issued a three-page report that slams the office for negligence and a lack of supervision.
The report comes after three people, including two tax office employees, were indicted in June, which prompted the grand jury to review the overall operations of the office.
In May, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced a multiagency fraud investigation related to vehicle titles, leading to seven arrests, including four tax office employees.
“While it is only these employees that are indicted, at this time, the Grand Jury, in hearing the evidence presented, is GREATLY ALARMED at the pervasive lack of supervision and apparent willful dereliction of duty of the supervisors and officers of the TC Tax Office,” the report reads.
Tax Assessor-Collector Bruce Elfant said in a statement Thursday evening that he takes responsibility and is “fully committed to making sure this never happens again.”...
Austin Central Library named one of 2018’s ‘World’s Greatest Places’ by TIME (Austin American-Statesman)
The library, which opened in October of last year, was the result of more than four years of construction and is stocked with nearly 400,000 books.
It also isn’t new to worldwide recognition. Earlier this summer it was named one of five finalists for the 2018 Public Library of the Year. It was the only library in the country to be included...
Houstonians mark 1-year Harvey anniversary with grit, tears (Houston Chronicle)
Lorita Malveaux waited expectantly Saturday morning in the driveway of her rust-red home on Kashmere Street. It was 8:40 a.m. The sky was, for the moment, cloudless and the air was warm. At this moment one year ago, Hurricane Harvey was 13 hours from striking the Texas coast as a category 4 storm. Now, the mayor was coming to visit Malveaux in front of the house where she grew up, where she evacuated before the storm filled it with 3 to 4 feet of water. Inside, the floors were torn up. So were the walls. Two weeks ago, she said, a group cut pieces out of the ceiling. “We haven’t been back in since that day,” said Malveaux, 52. “It doesn’t feel well. We’re ready to come back home.” Malveaux, who is living in a hotel, is one of countless Texans who, a year after the storm flooded their homes, continue to work to get their old lives back. Some expected to be further along by this point. Others were able more quickly to push the storm to the back of their minds. Events planned for the summer day, including Mayor Sylvester Turner’s neighborhood visits, conveyed that healing and work remained. Organizations, cities and neighborhoods marked the anniversary with gatherings that included art displays, a writing workshop and, not far from Malveaux’s home, a community festival with resource booths and free backpacks for kids headed back to school. Kashmere Gardens, where Malveaux lived, was among the hardest hit. The historically African-American community is one of the poorest in Houston. Already, the area had its struggles, said local pastor Johnny Gentry, 47. “After the storm,” he said, “they’re struggling worse.”...
Harris County voters pass historic $2.5 billion for flood control (Texas Tribune)
A year after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Harris County voters overwhelmingly backed a $2.5 billion bond measure Saturday that would finance at least 237 flood control projects in the Houston area.
With most of the vote counted late Saturday evening, the measure appeared on its way to a more than 85-percent approval rate.
It will help fund a vast flood-related home buyout program, the completion of several long ongoing bayou-widening projects, an improved early flood warning system, new floodplain maps and dredging behind two massive, World War II-era dams that were built to protect central Houston from catastrophic flooding but became a flashpoint after Harvey when thousands of homes on both sides of the dams were inundated.
A significant portion of the bond also will be used to secure billions more in federal matching funds...
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick agrees to a debate — with Geraldo Rivera (Texas Tribune)
After refusing to go toe-to-toe with his general election opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick agreed Thursday to debate television personality Geraldo Rivera over immigration and the murder of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts.
Patrick first challenged Rivera to a debate during an interview with Fox News Thursday morning, apparently in response to Rivera tweeting that Tibbetts’ death was being used “to promote proven false notion that undocumented immigrants are disproportionately committing violent crimes.”...
Sessions Rebukes Trump, Vows Justice Department Won't Be Swayed By Politics (KUT)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions answered needling by President Trump on Thursday with a vow that as long as he runs the Justice Department, it won't be swayed by politics.
Sessions' statement was a rare broadside in response to TV and Twitter criticism by Trump of the department, which he and supporters accuse of perpetuating a "witch hunt" in the Russia investigation and going soft on Democrats.
"While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations," Sessions said.
"I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action. However, no nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States."...