City’s Numbers On Homeless Costs Don’t Add Up

By Bill Oakey, June 29, 2022

I took a big gulp when I read the American-Statesman article about the “funding shortfall” of $93 million for housing the homeless. The article says the City has established a mind-bogging $515 million price tag for housing Austin’s homeless over three years. There is a big push to find corporate donors to cough up the $93 million. But, as you will see, their numbers don’t add up.

For starters, you can’t take all of the homeless people off the streets and put them into a home! Too many of them have serious substance abuse and mental health issues. Experience has shown that many (but not all) of these impaired individuals cannot maintain a home properly. Some will even refuse to be placed in a home.

I mention this, not for any lack of compassion, but for the sake of practical reality. The situation simply is what it is. What the City should be doing is raising large sums of money for mental health services and substance abuse rehabilitation. That should be a major component of the homeless solution plans.

Let’s Take a Look at the Math

Regardless of the merits of any of this, the City’s numbers do not add up. The City wants to build 1,300 housing units. The Statesman article suggests that with recent construction cost increases, a typical apartment unit would cost $275,000. So, let’s put a little cushion on that, and bump it to an even $300,000. Here’s how the math comes out:

$515,000,000 Total fundraising goal
    -93,000000 Alleged shortfall
$422,000,000 Available to spend

$300,000,000 Cost per housing unit
           X 1,300 Housing units needed
$390,000,000 Actual amount needed

$422,000,000 Available to spend
 -390,000,000 Actual amount needed
  $32,000,000 Left over, WITHOUT including the $93 million “shortfall”

Now, let’s look at it another way. Suppose they did raise the additional $93 million. Here’s what would happen:

$515,000,000 Available to spend
            / 1,300 Housing units needed
$396,153,846 Cost per unit

The City’s fundraising goal would provide roughly $400,000 per newly built housing unit for the homeless. That is a whopping sum of money for a very risky proposition. It assumes that all 1,300 of these folks could, or would, actually live sustainably in their own homes.

I would expect City officials and homeless advocates to do an artful dance around these numbers. They will probably mention administrative costs. Well, I can’t imagine those adding up to the $32 million left over without the shortfall, or the full $125 million, if you tack on the $93 million.

Perhaps they are allowing for other homeless services besides housing. If that’s the case, then it brings up a huge problem with the City’s lack of transparency to the public. Where in the &@#!!_&$#! are these giant mountains of taxpayer money and private donations for the homeless actually going?? What are the metrics? 

At the very least, we deserve to see answers to these basic questions:

1. How many homeless folks have been settled into housing in the last five years?

2. What is the annual budget for cleaning up homeless camps? Is there an upcoming  budget plan for providing sufficient staff to keep these camps clean and sanitary?

3. What is the annual budget for providing substance abuse rehab and mental health services for the homeless? What are the recent annual metrics for the numbers of people successfully treated with these services?

4. Does the City have a specific policy and the necessary staff to ensure that local businesses and homeowners are sufficiently protected from homeless crime?

5. What are the metrics for resolving issues of homeless crime? How many people have been arrested per recent year? What are the City’s policies for making arrests for homeless crimes? What are the specific metrics for prosecutions, prison time served, probation granted, release without prosecution, etc.? Is there sufficient accountability imposed on homeless folks who commit crimes to discourage these offenders from doing it again?

When all of these questions are satisfactorily answered, I sincerely believe that the public and potential corporate donors will show their compassion, and be much more willing to get on board with an aggressive plan to deal with our homeless dilemma.

What Are the Requirements to Get a Free Home?

This question is not intended to reflect badly on the unfortunate folks who lose their jobs, while facing devastating medical issues they can’t afford, and find themselves out on the street. Certainly, these folks need public services. But a program that offers free homes, valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars could become very tempting. What would prevent a fraudster from storing their belongings with a friend, and pitching a tent to become “homeless?” Or, what if a group of folks facing 30% or 40% rent increases, decided to stay in Austin and try to qualify for free homes? How will the City determine who is legitimately entitled to this grand prize of a benefit?

At first glance, this question might seem preposterous to longtime homeless advocates. If so, that just proves my point about the need for transparency. Will some of the newly constructed homes be intended only for transitional housing? Can we assume that the folks have to either buy the home, rent it or move out, if they get a job and become self-sufficient? Or, are they allowed to keep the free homes for life? Will these free homes come with a Federal tax liability, like the cars that were once given to Oprah Winfrey’s audience? The public needs to know, and we haven’t been told.

There Is a Big Shortfall, But It’s Not Financial

The City’s thinking falls far short of where It ought to be. Austin has a broad range of critical needs. In all of our history, major endeavors costing hundreds of millions of dollars have been debated, discussed and decided with significant public input. Major  projects have often required months, if not years of community involvement before we came together to approve them. On the homeless issue, our City leaders have made huge financial commitments, without large-scale community input. Discussions were held, of course, but not to the extent that we know many details about how the money is being spent. Or whether the public is comfortable with the vast amounts being spent. We haven’t seen any metrics on the progress made to house the homeless, or address the mental health, sanitation and public safety components of the issue.

Austin has a major affordability problem that impacts every neighborhood. We have a lopsided, tech-based economy that has created an income inequality crisis. It threatens our diversity, and is probably not economically sustainable. The Project Connect transit plan is spiraling out of control, with ballooning cost projections. Its odds of actually being completed, with miles of tunnels and a split-level underground fantasy land are slim to none. And we face a climate change challenge that threatens our quality of life, including severe wildfire dangers.

Bottom line – $515 million is a staggering sum to put into a single basket among all of our critical needs. Especially, without transparency and community consensus.

A Parting Thought

If and when the City finally decides to provide some transparency, I would urge them to reinforce their assumptions about the viability of their homeless initiatives. Please show us some examples of other cities that have a prove record of success, using the approaches that our taxpayer dollars will be funding. Let’s hope that the outcome looks better than what we see in San Francisco and L.A.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

  1. “Someone’s Child” – Matthews, Wright & King
  2. “Ain’t Got No Home” – Clarence “Frogman” Henry
  3. “Green Green Grass of Home” – Tom Jones
  4. “Sloop John B” – The Beach Boys
  5. “Detroit City” – Bobby Bare

The Cold, Harsh Realities Of Anti-Abortion Radicalism

By Bill Oakey – June 25, 2022

The focus on anti-abortion radicalism will eventually shift to its aftermath. What will become of the millions of forced-to-be-be born children? And what will become of their parents and their families? You never hear extremist Republicans speak about either of those concerns.

There is one thing we can count on without question. Republicans will do absolutely nothing to help protect the “precious lives” of the newly born. The shallow and heartless reality is precisely the exact opposite. Republicans will do everything in their power to hinder the well-being of the women who are forced to give birth, and their unwanted or unexpected children.

The so-called “Pro Life” movement should have always been labeled “Pro Sad Life.” Take a simple look at the big picture of life in America today. Then, plug in millions of new children, mostly born into poverty.

Wealthy investors are sweeping through neighborhoods across the country, and buying up blocks of homes. They are outbidding young would-be homeowners who are starting new families. These same investors are scooping up apartments, trailer parks and every other type of housing. Their plan is to trap the next generation of Americans into entire lives burdened with ever-increasing exorbitant rental costs.

Just close your eyes and try to imagine the added burden of forced-birth children into the lives of these families. Even before a new pregnancy is discovered, tens of millions of families are struggling to make ends meet. The wages for middle class and lower-tier workers have been stagnant for a generation. These folks often have to work two jobs to get by. The additional cost burden of forced-birth children will only compound the hardships imposed upon these growing numbers of people.

But we won’t see Republican lawmakers at any level of government stepping up to help. On the contrary, they will try to obliterate the Affordable Care Act. They will continue to restrict and curtail Medicaid and other safety net programs. And all the while, they will attemp to claim the moral high ground. As pathetic and utterly despicable as one could imagine, these Republicans will dare to invoke “Christian values” as the foundation for their heartless actions. Make no mistake about it. There is nothing even remotely Christ-like in their motivations, their behavior or their legislative agenda.

Many women with health complications will die if their doctors are forbidden from performing abortions. Scores of children will grow up knowing that their father was a brutal and savage rapist. Or a perverted molester within their own family.

The ultimate result of taking away freedoms and replacing them with one-sided, misguided ideology is a breakdown of our entire culture. Broad-based, escalating poverty leads to increased mental health issues and widespread crime. Trapping single mothers and low to middle income families into a cycle of unaffordable living conditions will cripple the overall economy. When workers are squeezed with high housing costs, diminishing educational opportunities and insufficient health care, we can only expect trouble on many levels. That includes more suicides, domestic abuse, gun violence and homelessness.

Republicans will try to shrug it all off and turn away from these realities. In fact, reality itself has disappeared from their mindset. But, the social unrest and the devastating economic repercussions of their actions will serve to energize Democrats. Reality and truth are pretty tough adversaries to defeat. Polls show that overwhelming majorities of Americans do not support the extreme policy positions of the far right. These angry and hateful souls are not the only ones who know how to fight! We will have to work hard to ensure that love and compassion prevails.

Your Over-65 School Tax Freeze Will Thaw – And That’s Good News!

By Bill Oakey – May 24, 2022

My mother always told me not to refreeze anything in the refrigerator, after it has been frozen once. But that does not apply to our currently frozen over-65 and disabled school property taxes.

We have one adventurous news hound in Austin to thank for chasing down this winding tale of a story. I tip my hat to Bridget Grumet at the Austin American-Statesman. This will make you want to follow her reporting every week.

Grumet: New school property tax ceiling is ‘a 15-step math problem’ that benefits seniors

Bridget Grumet
Austin American-Statesman

Bill Oakey cleaning his West Austin condo. Photo by Jay Banner, Austin American-Statesman

The vast majority of voters in the May 7 election — nearly 87% — decided to lower the tax bills for homeowners who are disabled or over 65. But do you understand exactly how we just changed the school property tax freeze that has been a financial lifeline for about 2 million Texas households?

Don’t feel bad. I didn’t know the mechanics of it, either. Nor did Bill Oakey, a retired accountant and longtime taxpayer activist who runs the blog at AustinAffordability.com.

“Will our school taxes be reset back to the dollar amount that we paid in 2019? And then refrozen at that amount?” Oakey asked me a few days after voters approved Proposition 1. “Or will they be refrozen at whatever dollar amount they’re at in 2023?”

Actually, none of the above.

I promise you, this is a good news story for taxpayers. And I’ll do my best to keep the math digestible. But I figured if someone as plugged in as Oakey didn’t understand how Prop 1 worked, we could all use a fuller explanation.

Tax freeze was ‘a miracle’

For decades, as soon as a Texan got the special homestead exemption for older or disabled homeowners, that person’s school property taxes were frozen at that year’s amount. The school portion of their bill couldn’t go above that ceiling in future years, although it could be lower. (Notably, the freeze doesn’t apply to city or county taxes.)

The school portion of my property tax bill has shot up more than $700 over the past five years, so I can imagine what it means for older adults on fixed incomes to know they’re shielded from those kinds of costly spikes over the long term.

“Everybody I know that lives in Austin now, including me, probably wouldn’t be able to stay here if not for the over-65 tax freeze,” Oakey, 74, told me. “It was just a miracle it was on the books.”

But the freeze became an impediment of sorts in 2019, when the Legislature passed House Bill 3. The massive school finance reform package included a complicated plan to “compress” the school property tax rates, reining in the surging bills for homeowners like me.

That didn’t do much for older or disabled homeowners, though, because their bills were already frozen.

How low can it go?

Prop 1, the measure Texas voters approved this month, aims to bring some relief to that group of homeowners. But I must warn you, this is not the kind of thing you can calculate yourself.

“It’s like a 15-step math problem,” said David Clark, a senior policy analyst for state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the Houston Republican who authored the legislation behind Prop 1.

Here’s the basic gist:

Next year, tax collectors’ offices will unfreeze the school property tax bills for seniors and disabled homeowners, then recalculate by factoring in the compression rates for 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023. That will be the catch-up year for those homeowners, getting the benefit of several years’ worth of reduced rates that the rest of us already got.

As a result, the 2023 tax bill for older and disabled homeowners will be lower than their previous “frozen” amount. Then, under Prop 1, that lower amount becomes the new ceiling.

But not forever.

In 2024, and each year after that, the bill is once again unfrozen and recalculated, using the latest year’s compression rate, which is provided by the Texas Education Agency. In a worst-case scenario, if we hit a recession, the school property tax bill would stay the same as the year before. But most of the time, Clark said, the bill should drop a little more each year.

And each year, the lower amount becomes the new ceiling.

It’s like older and disabled homeowners are trading their tax ceiling for a limbo stick.

I should also note: As property owners pay less, the state is kicking in more dollars to ensure school districts don’t lose funding. The state dollars come from the general revenue pot that includes sales tax, taxes on the production of oil and natural gas, and other tax streams.

That infusion of state dollars is long overdue. For years, the state had reduced its contribution to school budgets because soaring property values led to higher property tax collections from the local districts. But, as any homeowner who has paid those bills knows, the rising burden on local taxpayers was unsustainable.

Making sense of your bill

You might have heard that under Prop 1, older adults on average will save $110 in 2023. Where did that figure come from?

Clark told me that Prop 1 will bring an estimated $220 million drop in school property tax collections from older and disabled homeowners that first year. Divide that by the 2 million Texans who get those particular homestead exemptions, and you arrive at $110.

Using similar back-of-the-envelope math, the state projects an additional $125 savings for those homeowners in 2024.

In reality, each senior or disabled homeowner has specific factors — how long they’ve had the tax freeze, what’s happening to home values in their area, what the compression rate for their district is — that make it impossible to guesstimate what Prop 1 will mean for their specific tax bill.

Photo by Jay Janner – Austin American-Statesman

Even local tax officials are still wrapping their heads around Prop 1. They’ll also have to factor in the other measure voters approved May 7, an increase to the general homestead exemption for all Texans.

Instead of knocking $25,000 off the value of a home when calculating school property taxes, Proposition 2 knocks off $40,000. (Older and disabled residents already get an extra $10,000 exemption on top of the general one for all homeowners.) Depending on how low their already-frozen bill is, however, older and disabled homeowners might not notice much of a difference from the higher homestead exemption under Prop 2.

Officials in Travis County, where nearly 75,000 people have the older adult or disabled person’s homestead exemption, expect to compare notes with other tax collectors and work with their software vendors to figure out the best way to calculate the bills.

Then it will be a matter of helping homeowners understand their 2023 bills, though I’m guessing most taxpayers will be satisfied with the bottom line.

“Usually people are pretty happy when their tax ceiling goes down, as long as they know it’s not an error,” Tiffany Seward, spokeswoman for the Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office, told me.

And that was pretty much the case when I relayed all of this to Oakey. The math was more complicated than either of us expected. But given the rising cost of living, and the fact that retired teachers and retired state employees haven’t seen a cost-of-living adjustment in roughly two decades, Oakey welcomed the tax break.

“I’m very happy to hear they’ve done this,” he said, “because seniors are losing ground.”

Grumet is the Statesman’s Metro columnist. Her column, ATX in Context, contains her opinions. Share yours via email at bgrumet@statesman.com or via Twitter at @bgrumet. Find her previous work at statesman.com/news/columns.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Posting:

1. “The Freeze” – Tony and Joe, 1958
2. “Let It Go” – From Disney’s “Frozen”
3. “Limbo Rock” – Chubby Checker, Original 1962 single version
4. “Taxman” – The Beatles

City Should Establish Lots of Senior Discounts

By Bill Oakey – May 22, 2022

Austin’s affordability disaster has reached every neighborhood in the city. Few people were surprised by the latest round of obnoxiously high tax appraisals. Our City leaders created this problem by marketing the city relentlessly, until the growth spiraled out of control. No other city  in Texas has seen the steep rise in housing costs on the scale that exists here.

Our long term residents should not be shoved aside, just to make room for more luxury housing units. Instead, the City should look for ways to keep the older folks here. After all, we are the ones who worked, volunteered and paid our taxes, to create the lively atmosphere and high quality of life that makes Austin special.

It’s Time for the City to Implement a Full Range of Senior Discounts

I am making the following recommendations to the City Council to consider for senior discounts:

1. All fixed customer charges on utility bills – for electric, water, wastewater, trash collection

2. Admission tickets, services charges and parking fees for all events, both public and private, that are held at City-owned facilities or on City-owned land. This includes music festivals, wine tastings and the multitude of other events at Zilker Park, Botanical Gardens, Auditorium Shores, etc.The City’s contracts with private entities that use City parks and facilities should be modified to require senior discounts.

3. General admission and parking for City parks and City facilities at all times, even when no special events are happening. State and national parks already provide senior discounts.

4. Fees for all parking meters, parking lots and parking garages throughout the city. This includes libraries, City Hall and all other City facilities.

The City should roll out this initiative with a major public relations campaign. They should encourage all private businesses to partner with them and offer similar senior discounts. We are starting to see far too many luxury events with sky-high prices. And it can cost an arm and a leg just to park, before going in to these events. That’s fine for the folks who can shrug it off with a few taps on their phones. But, it’s high time for our City officials to recognize that Austin still has some of the local people who cannot light a cigar with a $100 bill.

How Austin Can Lead The Way On Climate Change

 By Bill Oakey – May 10, 2022

CNN recently published an article that provides a climate change and affordability solution that is perfect for Austin. Big-box stores are starting to install solar panels on their rooftops and portions of their giant parking lots. IKEA has already taken an early lead in this endeavor, with 54 solar installations, covering 90% of their stores nationwide. The cost savings and climate change benefits that could be achieved if more stores did this are enormous. Check out these points, summarizing CNN’s findings:

1. From September to December 2020, IKEA cut its energy purchases by 84% and slashed its energy costs by 57% at their Baltimore store. Meanwhile, the cars in their parking lot stayed cooler in the shade provided by the solar panels.

2. A report from the nonprofit Environment America estimates that solar panels could cut the electricity needed by big-box stores and shopping centers by 50%.

3. The same report found that if big-box stores nationwide installed solar panels, it would generate enough electricity to power 8 million average homes. The climate change impact would be equivalent to pulling 11.3 million gas-powered cars off the road.

4. The average Walmart has 180,000 square feet of rooftop. That’s equal to 3 football fields of space. It’s enough for solar panels to generate the electricity needed to power 200 homes.

Three Words Come to Mind for Austin – Let’s Do It!

 This initiative will require a coordinated effort from both public and private sector officials. There are some hurdles and strategic planning efforts that will come into play. In Austin, we may have permitting and other regulatory requirements. These could be reviewed and possibly adjusted to encourage the installations. The CNN study found that some big box stores have roofs that may need repairs or modifications to accommodate solar panels. The City Council should consider appointing a task force to engage the stakeholders, evaluate the situation and make recommendations on how best to move forward.

IKEA installed solar panels at its Round Rock store in 2012. Just imagine how much the technology has improved since then. What are we waiting for?

Austin Energy Would Need to Rethink Its Future Plans

A sudden large-scale shift to solar panels would impact Austin Energy’s ability to sell enough electricity to keep their operations financially viable. But, more solar installations are coming online already, some of which include entire residential subdivisions. Some serious discussions need to be held, regardless of this proposal. Part of Austin Energy’s reason for their pending rate increase is related to lower sales to customers in new, energy-efficient homes.

Here Are Some Things That Our City Officials Can Do

1. Explore whether Austin Energy can legally sell power directly to other utilities, and / or offer it for sale on the Texas power grid.

2. Do a detailed study on the impact of scaling up rooftop solar installations, and chart a path to gradually accommodate it. This can include reducing power generation from other sources, and rethinking Austin Energy’s future power generation plans. Another critical aspect would be evaluating the optimal mix of base load vs. peaking power capacity. This will ensure that we always have enough power to meet the demand during periods without a lot of sunshine.

3. Reach out to other major cities and large utilities, to determine best practices for a smooth transition toward large-scale solar installations.

4. Explore options to use available Federal funds for expanding solar infrastructure. Contact members of our Congressional delegation to seek assistance under both existing and potential new legislation.

5. This opportunity is hiding in plain sight – Put a solar installation on the roof of our massively expanded Austin Convention Center (!)

Let’s Not Forget About Rapidly Evolving Battery Storage Technology

This is the icing on the cake. Elon Musk and others are already manufacturing and selling new models of home and industrial battery installations to store solar power. These are following the path of solar panels, in rapidly becoming more affordable and of higher quality. City, State and Federal officials should review the excellent 2018 U.T. Honors Program thesis by my good friend, Maddie Bratcher. The title is “Gridlock on the Power Grid: How Battery Storage Technology Reveals Challenges to the Lone Star State.”

The future is now for both large-scale solar and battery storage. To quote an old fashioned saying, the train is roaring down the track. Austin needs to either hop on that train, or get out of the way. My advice is to move to the front of the train and lead the way!

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece

1. “Up On the Roof” – The Drifters
2. “Walk Right In” – The Rooftop Singers
3. “Bring Me Sunshine” – Willie Nelson
4. “Here Comes the Sun” – The Beatles
5. “Walking In the Sunshine” – Roger Miller

Guaranteed Income Plan Is Illegal In Texas – Here’s How To Do It Right

By Bill Oakey – April 20, 2022, Updated April 22, 2022

The City Council wants to start free money giveaways to families, to the tune of $1,000 per month???

I clearly remember an issue that came up back in the late 1980’s. The City wanted to place an item on the ballot to approve bonds for energy conservation programs. Families who qualified would get a “home energy audit.” Then a contractor would fix up their home to make it more energy efficient.

The City Council was all set to put this initiative on the ballot, along with other bonds to be considered. But it ran into a legal roadblock. Then Attorney General Jim Maddox issued an opinion that State law does not allow cities to give away money or “things of value.” Programs such as this can be funded with voluntary payments that customers add to their utility bills, or with State or Federal funds. But local taxpayer money cannot legally be used.

Here is the relevant citation in The Texas Constitution, Article III, Sec. 52:

Sec. 52. COUNTIES, CITIES, TOWNS OR OTHER POLITICAL CORPORATIONS OR SUBDIVISIONS; LENDING CREDIT; GRANTS. (a) Except as otherwise provided by this section, the Legislature shall have no power to authorize any county, city, town or other political corporation or subdivision of the State to lend its credit or to grant public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual, association or corporation whatsoever, or to become a stockholder in such corpora- tion, association or company.

If providing free energy efficiency upgrades to homes is not allowed under State law, then surely giving away bundles of taxpayers’ cash could not be legal! 

I can just imagine people going wild in the streets, as a parade of official City of Austin vehicles with “Free Money” logos on them depart City Hall. This extravaganza would follow a rousing send off speech by Mayor Steve Adler. Or better yet, why not turn the program over to Capital Metro and Project Connect? They could call it the Gravy Train, and operate it along the Green Line. Maybe they could dig tunnels under people’s homes, and deliver the free money right to their bedsides or their kitchen tables!

The concept of a guaranteed income program is upside down and backwards. On its face, it acknowledges that our economic system is out of whack. Workers should be paid a living wage on the front end of the process. Asking taxpayers to fix a broken system by applying a bandaid to the back end only makes the problem worse. It adds layers of administrative cost to the government. And it saps resources from other essential programs.

Here’s How to Fix the Problem

Austin has maintained a culture of low wages, dating back to at least the 1970’s, when we were a smaller college town. Our biggest employers then were U.T. and State government agencies. Because Austin was such a desirable place to live, private employers got by with paying pitifully low wages. That embedded culture still persists to this day for many jobs on the lower rungs of the pay scale.

It is high time for the City Council, the local chambers of commerce and the independent business associations to come together and address the problem. Start by researching how Austin wages compare with other cities. Find out what, if any, legitimate barriers exist that prevent Austin employers from paying better wages. Then fix those problems. Break down those barriers.

But don’t risk costly litigation, or swift action by Ken Paxton and other State Republicans to block the guaranteed income program. Please, City Council – Step up to the plate and do it right!

Crazy Requirements From the Contractor The City Wants To Partner With!

If the City Council approves the guaranteed income pilot program, they will contract it out to UpTogether, a non-profit that has done it in several other cities. Wait till you see the crazy requirements that San Antonio families are hit with if they want to apply! Here are just two eye-popping examples:

1. Link all of your bank and financial accounts to UpTogether, so they can spy on every dollar that you spend.

2. Form a group of between 4 and 8 people in order to join. This ensures that UpTogether can expand exponentially, and lasso an ever-increasing stream of taxpayer dollars, flowing into their organization.

You can read the full details of the San Antonio program here.

A Closing Poem

Just as we’re being taxed out of our socks
Here comes the opening of Pandora’s Box
The City’s new plan to come after your money
Isn’t even legal, and you won’t like it, honey!

They call it guaranteed annual income
It’s crazy, wacky, screwball and then some
Austin should raise the minimum wage
And do it voluntarily, in more than one stage

Too often our leaders don’t think things through
When fixing a problem isn’t easy to do
But surely the City can find a better option
Than rushing a bad plan to final adoption

Giving away money with no strings attached
Is like expecting all eggs to be successfully hatched
The guaranteed income sounds simple on the surface
But it must serve a legal community purpose

Even if the City could find such a loophole
This is Pandora’s Box and a budgetary sinkhole
The non-profit partner the City picked to administer
Has creepy requirements that look downright sinister

Here’s hoping the City will come to their senses
Before taxpayers rise up and mount their defenses
Remember one thing, dear sirs and my dear
This is a City Council election year!

Yikes! The New Property Tax Appraisals Are Out!

By Bill Oakey – April 15, 2022

The City of Austin’s relentless march to obliterate all long term residents and replace us with the ultra-rich took another giant leap this morning. The Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD) has posted the new property tax appraisals on their website. If you just placed an order for a new Tesla, and you registered for the VIP presale tickets for the Zilker Botanical Gardens Ion Art Night at $400 per couple, plus fees, plus taxes, then you can skip this blog piece. But if you have lived in Austin most of your life, and you are responsible for helping to create our high quality of life, then keep reading. You still matter to tens of thousands of your neighbors and friends. You still have a right to belong in the city that you helped build, and you supported with your taxes.

To look up your new tax appraisal, go to this link, and enter you name or your property address. Scroll down to the bottom, and click on “Values.” The line labeled “Market” is your total appraisal. The “Net Appraisal” is the adjusted amount, after any homestead exemptions and the 10% annual appraisal cap. Keep in mind that if your total appraisal is reduced by the annual cap, then that higher amount will stay in your account, and you’ll get 10% increases every year until you reach the total.

Check out the helpful, but frightening news story from KXAN below. Investors around the world are salivating over the easy money they can make by gouging Austin renters, and toppling all of our neighborhoods. But we have a tough spirit, and we vote in large numbers. Enjoy this nice spring day, while you still can!

Travis Co. Appraisal District says its market values have been ‘too low.’ What does that mean for your notice?

Updated:

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD) said appraisal notices for the year are on their way to homeowners. Spoiler alert: Values are up. Way up.

TCAD said according to this year’s values, the 2022 median market value for a residential property in Travis County is $632,208.

KXAN has previously reported

According to TCAD, the median home value was $413,403 in 2021 and $354,622 in 2020.

“In some areas, we’re looking at increases in market value of almost 40 to 50%. In some places, it may even be higher,” said Marya Crigler, Travis Central Appraisal District chief appraiser.

It’s what worries Dave W. Lofton III, who’s seen his value increase, especially over the last few years.

“My house, it hasn’t changed, it’s been the same,” he said. “They done built all these houses all around me, okay, they value my house on these houses that’s around me.”

In a press release on Thursday, the agency also said its market values “in recent years have been too low, particularly in areas of western Travis County.” That’s according to a review by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, which is done every two years, said TCAD.

The comptroller’s office told KXAN its study takes a look at a sample of property values within school districts. It sends that data back to the Texas Education Agency to help determine school funding.

While it said the study doesn’t have a direct impact on TCAD’s home market values, TCAD said it shows it “failed” to value properties at 100% of the market rate, as required by law, according to TCAD spokesperson Cynthia Martinez.

Martinez said it’s part of the reason why property owners’ increases might be higher than they expected, because TCAD has been too low the last couple years.

“The test that we had the last two years indicated that we were probably not being as aggressive in increasing the values as we should have been,” Crigler said.

She said the discrepancy comes from the data they have access to.

“We do have some limitations in the information that is available to the appraisal district. The state will have some different resources that will lead — lend their analysis to be slightly different than ours,” Crigler said.

But she said the biggest driving factor in increased market values is supply and demand. 

“There’s a lot of demand for housing, but we have had a shortage of supply of housing,” she said.

Crigler also posted a message to homeowners, stating:

“These increases may seem intimidating. But it is important for property owners to understand that the appraisal district does not set local budgets or tax rates. Your city, county, and school district are among the taxing entities that determine how much money needs to be brought in every year by property taxes. Your taxable value helps determine what portion of that total you have to pay compared to your neighbors.”

But TCAD’s market values are what those taxing entities use in setting those rates, and the majority of folks will see property taxes go up, as we’ve seen in previous years.

Even with a homestead exemption, which caps his property tax increase at 10%, Lofton is worried he’ll be taxed out of his neighborhood of more than 40 years.

To see the full KXAN News story, click here.

Final Note: If you really want to go to the Zilker Gardens Ion Art Night, you can register here, non-VIP, for $80 per couple, plus fees, plus taxes. But read the fine print. If the event is canceled for any reason beyond their control, there are NO REFUNDS! Your money will be kept as a donation to support “their mission.”

You can thank our friendly Parks and Recreation Dept. for these high priced, glitzy events and outlandish policies. What about those wonderful free spring Zilker Garden Festivals that we enjoyed for so many years? The ones where local organizations were in charge, and plants were sold to benefit non-profit groups? Those days at Zilker Gardens are gone forever, unless we can elect City Council members who care about all of our communities, and the diverse income groups who live in those communities.

Don’t Forget to Vote – Here’s A Quick Guide

By Bill Oakey – February 22, 2022

Early voting is still underway
So get prepared before the last day
The first thing to do once your pen is handy
Remind yourself to vote for Brandy

Brandy Mueller deserves our support
For the 403rd District Court
Her Project Engage is such a wonderful success
That we should settle for nothing less

Now that that one’s out of the way
Let’s move on to Brigid Shea
Why send Brigid into retirement
When she’s done so much to protect the environment?
To challenge Brigid seems really strange
Look at her record on climate change

Don’t let me forget that other strong gal
Of course, I’m referring to my good friend, Chantal
Chantal Eldridge should be our selection
For District 331 Court re-election
I’ve seen all those papers spread out on her table
Her experience and compassion prove that she’s able

Now for the matter of Lloyd Doggett for Congress
I cannot imagine who better could serve us
To lose him now would be a doggone pity
We need him on the Appropriations Committee

His challenger is young, feisty and hardy
She is the future of the Democratic Party
But there is no need to fill a void
So I recommend that we stick with Lloyd

You are welcome to share this advice with your friends
We need to keep working till the voting ends!

Kathie Tovo For Austin Mayor – Wouldn’t It Be Great!

By Bill Oakey – January 18, 2022

Is your voice being heard at City Hall? If it isn’t, there’s a pretty simple reason. The special interests are the ones with all the connections. While you and your family are busy out working, the Big Money lobbyists and their cronies are always lurking at City Hall. Some are arrogant and some are real friendly. But their concern for you doesn’t add up to diddley.

So, many of us are wishing and hoping that Kathy Tovo will run for Mayor. Word has it that she is very close to a decision. If she doesn’t want it, we really can’t force her…

But if she does, I’m ready to endorse her!

Kathie Tovo

With Kathie Tovo in the Mayor’s chair, we could finally start chip-chipping away at that big thick wall that separates us regular folks from the insiders at City Hall. So, if she decides to run, what would you want her to include in her campaign platform? Let’s start thinking about that, just in case. I would propose some ideas on affordability. Then I would work with her office staff, and urge them to launch a couple of big initiatives right away. All I need is for her campaign to give me the word and start me up!

How Tough Would It Be To Get Her Elected?

This probably wouldn’t be an easy race for us to win. Every square inch of our City that hasn’t been nailed down is up for sale to the highest bidder. It’s too late to bring back the unique hometown ambiance and funky weirdness that helped the marketers lure more people here. The new Austin is still a wonderful place, but it’s fraught with many challenges. Not all of us drive Teslas and toss away $25 to $50 a pop to park at a soccer stadium. Some of us care more about a tasty down home meal than an overpriced joint with a fancy chef from Paris or Milan. Kathie Tovo is our strongest voice at City Hall. Don’t get me wrong, though. She has proven that she can bring all sides together and reach consensus on reasonable solutions to big, contentious issues.

So, if Kathie runs, how can we help her win?

In a nutshell, it’s up to you. We have elected grassroots candidates for Mayor before. But it’s a lot of hard work. You and your friends and their friends would all need to pitch in and help. If Kathy Tovo ran and won, she would be our first woman elected Mayor since the election of 1981. That was 41 years ago! Kathy supports the current development code requirement that neighborhoods must be notified in advance on proposed zoning changes. She can be counted on to work out a plan that allows more density in some areas, but not nearly as threatening to as many existing neighborhoods as what’s in the latest draft of the revised code.

Kathie did not vote to slash the police budget. As part of the City Council majority, she approved streamlining the operations, with much better handling of mental health related cases, and a whole host of other impressive reforms. The lack of officers on the job is largely caused by a backlog of new hires needing to complete the cadet training classes. The revisions to the cadet training program, which led to some delays, will pay off in the long run with much better protocols and safer outcomes during arrests. We need to share that message widely.

Here’s the Final Big Question…

Trustworthy grassroots candidates for Mayor with an amazing staff of experienced, knowledgable and responsive people are hard to come by. We might have to wait a million years for the next opportunity. So, if she runs here’s the big question. Can compassionate Austinites unite to support a proven leader who feels strongly about bringing people together to solve problems, and help heal our economic divide? I believe there’s a song that answers it – Yes, we can…can!

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Posting

  1. “Wouldn’t it Be Great” – Loretta Lynn, title song from her 2018 album, recorded at age 85
  2. “Wishin’ and Hopin'” – Dusty Springfield, 1964, written by Hal David & Burt Bacharach
  3. “Chip Chip” – Gene McDaniels, 1962
  4. “Start Me Up” – The Rolling Stones, 1981
  5. “It’s Too Late” – Carole King, 1971, from her 13X platinum album, “Tapestry”
  6. “It’s Up to You” – Ricky Nelson, 1962
  7. “I’d Wait a Million Years” – The Grass Roots, 1969
  8. “Yes We Can Can” – The Pointer Sisters, 1973, their first hit single. Listen joyously to the positive, unifying message in the lyrics! It fits so well today that it could have been written yesterday. it was written by the legendary New Orleans pianist, singer, songwriter and producer, Allen Toussaint.

Lyrics – Yes We Can Can

Now’s the time for all good men
To get together with one another.
We got to iron out our problems
And iron out our quarrels
And try to live as brothers.
And try to find peace within
Without stepping on one another.

And do respect the women of the world.
Remember you all have mothers.
We got to make this land a better land
Than the world in which we live.
And we got to help each man be a better man
With the kindness that we give.
I know we can make it.
I know darn well we can work it out.

Oh yes we can, I know we can can
Yes we can can, why can’t we?
If we wanna get together, we can work it out.
And we gotta take care of all the children,
The little children of the world.
‘Cause they’re our strongest hope for the future,
The little bitty boys and girls.

We got to make this land a better land
Than the world in which we live.
And we got to help each man be a better man
With the kindness that we give.
I know we can make it.
I know darn well we can work it out.
Oh yes we can, I know we can can
Yes we can can, why can’t we?
If we wanna, yes we can can.

A Big Shock Is Coming When The Soccer Stadium Opens!

By Bill Oakey – May 10, 2021

June 19th is just a few weeks away. It can’t come soon enough for area soccer fans, who have been eagerly awaiting the opening of Austin’s first professional sports stadium. Behind the scenes, however, lurks an ugly truth that may not be fully apparent to folks who haven’t been paying attention.

Where In the World Are People Supposed to Park?

The grand new stadium will open with just 835 on-site parking spaces. It comes with a seating capacity of 20,000. Well, surely our City officials, team owners and master planners figured out how to resolve that little nagging problem many months ago. Right? In a word, that would more accurately be put, Nope! Not a chance.

How totally boring and un-Austin-like it would be, if things like this were well organized and planned properly! Just imagine – Nothing to complain about at City Hall. Nobody organizing rallies or gathering signatures on a petition. We would all just glide through our daily lives. But, let’s talk about the real Austin.

The North Austin neighborhoods raised their parking concerns early on in the evolution of the soccer stadium. They opposed the location, primarily because of parking and traffic concerns. But nobody in town wanted the stadium on City parkland. So, the abandoned North Austin industrial site, complete with hazardous chemicals buried in the soil, got the official nod. When the negotiations were completed, the team owners gleefully walked away with fifty years of property tax abatements. The City of Austin surrendered immediately. AISD balked at first, but they, too, eventually rolled over and capitulated.

Neighborhood leaders wrung their hands in frustration over the lack of parking. A close friend told me about long discussions with local officials. But no thorough traffic impact analysis was ever done. Not a single ounce of pavement on any street or major road was expanded, improved or adjusted in any way whatsoever. There are some nearby businesses that could offer some parking after hours, but there is no word yet on any such negotiations. A couple of brew pubs have opened nearby. The owners are overjoyed at the prospect of after-game revelers. Maybe those folks will be well sobered up, after hiking several miles back to their cars, following the binges.

Just Imagine the Scene at the Opening Home Game!

Austin FC will be hosting the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday evening, June 19th. Packages of four tickets are still available at the amazing low price range of just $395.00 to $1,140.00. But here’s something that might be a whole lot more fun to do that day. Why not gather a group of friends and head over to the Domain that afternoon? The sheer madness of The Big Soccer Stadium Opening Spectacle should be an event for the history books. Somebody could even print up some “I Was There” T-Shirts. How often would you get a chance to see the Biggest Texas Traffic Jam of All Time? Maybe you could stroll among the cars, and sell bottled water or “Keep Austin Weird” bumper stickers.

A Closing Poem

They will comes from places far and near
To enjoy Austin soccer and a belly full of beer
The fans will be joyous, as happy as a lark
Until they discover there is no place to park!

Only two thousand spaces for twenty thousand seats
Expect chaos and bedlam in the neighborhood streets
The brew pubs are ready, they’re chomping at the bit
To them Austin soccer is a sure-fire hit

Think back and remember the early reports
Hurray, Hallelujah, it’s professional sports
It’s coming to Austin and it’s long overdue
But without decent parking, it will be quite a zoo

The chemicals beneath the industrial site
Will long be forgotten by opening night
The stadium they built is magnificent and grand
One of the finest in all the land

The team owners have lots of reasons for cheers
They scored tax abatements that will last fifty years
The fun all begins on a sweltering June night
You can still get your tickets, they are priced just right

A family of four, with such pleasures to derive
Can snag their seats for just $395
But before they rejoice ‘neath the moon and the stars
They will sit for hours in a long line of cars!