By Mike Nellis, CEO of Austin Community Foundation and Ed Burger, CEO of St. David’s Foundation
As leaders of local foundations, we care deeply about the future of Austin and Central Texas. When done right, our jobs compel us to understand the core issues that impact our region along with their root causes, and then find creative and effective ways in which philanthropy can be part of community solutions. Today, we believe that affordable housing is a critical precondition for almost all of the outcomes we want to see for our region. Safe, stable, affordable housing provides multiple and long-lasting benefits for individuals as well as for society.
Children’s education and overall development suffer when they transfer from school to school because rising rents forced their families to move. Traffic congestion increases when employees must live further from work to find affordable housing. Neighborhoods become less neighborly when there is frequent turnover of families. Lack of access to safe, affordable housing negatively impacts people’s physical and mental health. And, not surprisingly, the lack of affordable housing is a driving force behind homelessness. While the burden of housing costs is felt across our community with 49% of Austin renters spending more than 30% or even 50% of their income on housing, people of color are disproportionately experiencing cost burdens at higher rates than white households.
Access to affordable housing across the income spectrum eases the burden on all the other safety net services our nonprofit sector provides. Last year, our organizations commissioned a research report that calls attention to the need for philanthropic investment to address the region’s housing crisis and outlines potential funding strategies to produce, protect, and preserve affordable housing in Central Texas. In the last two years, Austin Community Foundation and St. David’s Foundation have mobilized resources and collectively invested more than $21 million in affordable housing.
Housing affordability is our community’s central challenge. It is one that we believe can be solved, but only if we work collaboratively across government, business and philanthropic sectors. We have most of the essential tools to fix this issue – creative ideas, seasoned housing leaders, effective providers with proven solutions, and an appetite for systems change. However, philanthropy alone cannot solve the problem. Philanthropy can only complement, not replace, the public sector’s critical role in providing much-needed relief.
It is clear that Austin needs to invest resources commensurate with the size of the challenge. This November, Austin voters can help build a future that lives up to our city’s potential and values by supporting the $350 million housing bond. This public sector capital will catalyze the development of affordable housing – increasing the number of projects and allowing other investments from the private and philanthropic sectors to flow into our community. Simply put, the housing bond is the key that unlocks the door to scaled community development.
If the measure passes, those dollars will go toward acquiring land, building affordable homes, and repairing existing spaces so families, often seniors and people on fixed incomes, can safely remain in their homes. The funds would go a long way in increasing housing supply now while revisiting and possibly reforming the City’s land-development code and housing policies are still years away. The philanthropic and private sectors can leverage these public dollars to fill financing gaps, allowing projects to increase in both speed and scale.
There is tremendous potential in our community. But the economic prosperity of our region should not be at the expense of our middle and low-income earning friends and neighbors. The capacity to own a home or comfortably afford rent should not be a dream in Austin – it should be a reality for all of us who make up the heart of this remarkable Texas city.
To make that dream a reality, we must continue pushing forward opportunities for collaboration and funding solutions necessary to ensure housing stability and affordability for all members of our community. Passage of the housing bond would greatly enhance Austin’s ongoing evolution into the vibrant, caring, diverse and livable city we hope to see today and well into the future.
Originally published in the Austin American-Statesman on Sunday, October 16. Photo credit: Ricardo Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman