Monthly Archives: February 2016

Joint Ownership Options Could Help Keep Austinites In Their Homes

By Bill Oakey – February 24, 2016

One of the biggest problems facing longtime Austin residents is the high cost of property taxes. In recent years we have seen skyrocketing property appraisals that are literally pricing people out of their homes. Neighborhoods across that city that were once affordable are constantly seeing older homes bulldozed and replaced by very expensive luxury housing. This cycle of resident displacement and gentrification is difficult to overcome. Many of the affordable housing options being discussed by City officials consist of fee waivers to developers or geographic tax abatements that ultimately end up shifting the costs to other taxpayers. There are no easy solutions.

Joint Home Ownership Might Help Solve the Problem

Relatives and friends can legally enter into agreements that allow them to share ownership in a home. For example, you could ask a wealthy uncle to buy a 40% stake in your home. One simple way to do that would be for him to put up 40% of the equity that you have have in the home. Then from that point forward, you would pay 60% of the monthly mortgage bill and he would pay 40%. You would also share a 60/40 split on other expenses such as insurance and property taxes. And you would split the Federal income tax mortgage interest deduction. Neither one of you could sell the home without the other’s agreement, but you could sell your interest in the home. If the home is eventually sold, you and your uncle would do a 60/40 split on the proceeds.

Of course, not all of us has a relative or a trusted friend who would be interested in becoming a joint owner of our home. Perhaps the City of Austin should explore new and innovative ways to make joint ownership available for people who find themselves in danger of losing their homes. Right now, you as a homeowner cannot call up your mortgage lender and offer to sell an interest in your home to that lender. There is not a real estate office that you can call and ask to list a percentage of your home for sale on the open market. But if systems like that could be put in place, it might help a lot people be able to afford to stay in their homes.

High housing costs and property taxes also make it difficult for renters to be able to buy a home. Since the end of the recession, the rate of home ownership in the U.S. has declined. Tighter lending standards and student loan debt have made a harder for first-time buyers to get a home loan. CNBC recently published an article entitled, Is a Single-Family Home the New Luxury Item? The same could be asked about condos and townhouses, especially in Austin. A joint ownership option could help reduce the barriers to first-time homebuyers, including the down payment.

I would like for our City officials to consider this idea and discuss it with members of the real estate community. Joint home ownership is legal in Texas, but expanding it to real estate brokers and mortgage lenders could require changes to state or Federal laws. It seems like it would be a boost to the economy and quite helpful to many Austin residents. Many of us might be willing to give up a portion of the investment in their home for an opportunity to enjoy a lower burden of expenses.

Vote For Chantal Eldridge – A Rare Opportunity!

By Bill Oakey – February 24, 2016

If you haven’t voted yet in the Democratic primary election, be sure to keep one name in mind – Chantal Eldridge for the 450th District Court. This is one of those “under the radar” races, but it’s very important that we take this opportunity to support Chantal.

Chantal Eldridge

Chantal Eldridge

With just a few days to go before Tuesday’s election, we need to let our family, friends and neighbors know why Chantal is the best choice for the 450th District Court. She brings over 25 years of experience as a criminal defense attorney and other legal positions in California, Tennessee and here in Travis County.

Why Am I Supporting Chantal?

One of her strongest platform issues pertains to mental health. Of course her experience is broad and covers a lot of areas. But on the mental health front, Chantal explained that the County jail functions as our biggest mental health provider. She would like for that to change. A much more efficient, affordable and compassionate approach would be to implement a medication compliance program. Chantal says that Travis County should follow the successful examples in Seattle and Miami. As she explained it, “We need a voluntary program where people with mental health conditions could store their medication at a local facility. The staff at those facilities, and even group homes,  could monitor the patients’ compliance with administering their medications.”

For my previous interview with Chantal and why you should support her, see my previous blog endorsement here.

Where to Go to Learn More About Chantal

Watch her YouTube video here.

Visit her campaign website for more information and to make a donation.

This is a unique opportunity to elect a strong reform candidate to the 450th District Court.

Ignore the False, Misleading and Disappointing Negative Attacks!

In a most unfortunate development and as an act of desperation, Chantal’s opponent in the primary has sent out very negative campaign mailers in the last few days. We deserve better. As you head to the polls to cast your ballot, turn your back on these baseless attacks and stand tall with Chantal’s positive message!

Our Local Leaders Need to Stop Planning And Add Up The Costs

By Bill Oakey – February 22, 2016

One way to at least take a stab at the affordability problem is to look at how many “plans” our local officials have stacked up on various office shelves. And just remember, every time you hear about one more ambitious plan, remember this. Every single one of them comes with a hefty price tag.

Our “new” City Council has now passed their first year in office. We have seen a few notable stumbles on the affordability front. They passed a huge affordable housing initiative, without first realizing that it will cost about $100 million against our water bills and property taxes over the next 20-30 years. And just recently, they accepted the word of a private appraiser, who now estimates that it will cost $360,000 apiece to buy out the latest batch of flooded homes in Southeast Austin. Council Member Ellen Troxclair cautioned her colleagues from the dais that this appraisal figure is highly inflated. She has since confirmed that fact with the Austin Board of Realtors. I have asked the City Council to reconsider these inflated appraisal amounts.

The bottom line is that too many big ticket items are slipping through without the proper amount of due diligence. It was the flood buyout and mitigation program that reminded me of the alarming cost of the growing mountain of city plans. Yes, there is a Flood Mitigation Task Force. And yes, they are working on sort of a plan. It is called “Options for $100 Million Additional Funding.” We can pay for it with up-front cash out of the drainage utility fund or with borrowed money to be repaid from property taxes or the drainage fees.

Close your eyes and try to imagine how many different sets of plans the City has, sprinkled across every office in every department. Suppose the City Council asked the City Manager to make the rounds, gather up all the latest reports on these plans and bring them into a single room. I would like them to do this in the open and invite the public to come down and see how it all turns out.

There is absolutely no telling how many plans there are! That’s the whole point. I am going to formally ask the City this week to lay out all of the published plans and tally up the total cost of every single one of them. Then they need to meet and discuss how to prioritize the plans. Once that step is complete, they should consider reviewing every one of the plans to see which items within each plan are considered essential and which ones can either be postponed or eliminated. From what I can tell, there is no way we could possibly afford the cost of all of the plans, at least not anytime soon.

You might be wondering if I am “planning” to show a list of the plans that I have uncovered. The answer is yes, but I want to warn you first that looking at it might make you a bit dizzy or queasy. So here goes:

1. Bicycle Master Plan (2014) – $151 Million. Here is a teaser from Page 16:

“The cost of priority unfunded investments includes 200 new miles of on-street facilities for $58 million, at an average cost of $290,000 per mile. The cost per mile for on-street facilities varies greatly upon the type of treatment and is accounted for in the estimate. The estimate also includes 47 new miles of Urban Trails at $93 million at an average cost of $2 million per mile.”

2. Sidewalk Master Plan (2009) – $120 million. I am not sure how much of that is left to pay for.

3. Aquatic Master Plan (2016) – $41 million. Aquatic refers to swimming pools. The $41 million estimate is from last year, but the assessment will not be complete until sometime this year.

4. South Central Waterfront Initiative – Master plan due by June 2016

Other examples include:

Urban Forest Plan
Parks and Open Space Plan
Austin Resource Recovery Plan
Urban Trails Master Plan
Community Climate Plan
Watershed Protection Master Plan
Airport Boulevard Corridor Plan
Burnet Road Corridor Plan

It’s Time for a Reality Check!

A complete list would be impossible to assemble by relying on Internet searches alone. The City staff needs to gather these plans up and present them to the City Council for a major overview and affordability assessment. We need a timetable and yearly tax impact determined for every one of these plans before any further planning takes place.

The City needs to realize that voters have turned down bonds for AISD, “Urban Rail” and a costly County Courthouse. We are not living in the 1980’s anymore. We cannot afford the flashiest and the most elaborate park-scapes, street-scapes, and every other kind of urban “scape” that anybody can think of. Many thousands of us are struggling to afford the amenities that the City has right now. It might be nice to have a perfect “zero-waste” resource recovery system. It might be super to have the snazziest, most beautifully landscaped lakeshore in the Western Hemisphere. There is no end to the fantasies that various consultants, committees and task forces could come up with.

But until the current batch of plans is vetted and scrutinized by the City Council and the community, it’s time to call a halt to the creation of any more planning initiatives.

Musical accompaniment for this blog posting:

  1. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” – Paul Simon, 1975
  2. “Making Plans” – Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, 1980