Well written opinion from the Statesman attached below, which a lot people who vote put a premium on - punch line is “The 6-5 vote should have been unanimous”, the logic behind it is worth the read.
Looking back on the FAN discussion thread, @tthomas48 advocated instead for “drastically increasing the number of taxable properties would be a much simpler way to solve the problem” @marmstrong18 advocated instead for “setting Austin on a path the have relative affordability gained through an increase in supply and improvements in connectivity”. Both are consistent with Imagine Austin, and helping implement that vision / strategy is why many of us are here. Let’s not lose the “war” because we picked the wrong “battle”.
Phillips: Homestead exemption helps rich — and benefits rest of Austin
By Alberta Phillips - American-Statesman Staff
Posted: 11:36 a.m. Monday, July 11, 2016
Expanding the city of Austin’s homestead exemption helps the rich. True.
Expanding the city’s homestead exemption helps low- working- and middle-income families. Also true.
That is why the Austin City Council’s narrow approval recently to expand the homestead exemption – from 6 percent to 8 percent — made little, if any, sense. The 6-5 vote should have been unanimous, given current homeownership rates in Austin and the years of neglect homeowners have endured regarding tax cuts.
About 48 percent of Austin’s population live in owner-occupied homes, compared with about 52 percent of city residents who live in rental units. Rentals do make up a larger share of city housing units at 55 percent, but owner-occupied homes still are significant at 45 percent.
There’s also the politics: Mayor Steve Adler and most other council members promised to establish a meaningful homestead exemption during their 2014 campaigns. But even council members who did not support that idea rely on revenue that homeowners pay in property taxes to finance services for renters in their districts. So the financial interests of renters and homeowners are linked in an integrated city government that works best when it works for all. Ignoring one segment, such as homeowners, imperils another, such as renters.
Nonetheless, the decision over the exemption was cast in terms of the rich gaining at the expense of the poor — certain districts winning, while others were losing.
In voting against the measure, District 2 Austin City Council Member Delia Garza said: “To frame this as, ‘We’re helping struggling families,’ it’s not helping struggling families. It’s helping the wealthiest in our community.”
The exemption will knock 8 percent off of the value of a home for city tax purposes, which would save the typical Austin homeowner $23 a year on a home valued at $250,000.
Garza and other council members who voted against it – Ora Houston, Sabino “Pio” Renteria, Greg Casar and Kathie Tovo – believe the savings is too small to justify the $3.8 million it will cost the city. But the goal is to continue expanding it until it reaches 20 percent, which would be substantial. Several council members view it as a budget drain.
If they saw it from the eyes of homeowners, they would know it’s an investment that boosts their confidence that city government also works for them. And some council members need not look any further than their own district to see that.
In Garza’s Southeast Austin district, a majority of residents – 52 percent – own their homes. Household incomes for families in that district do vary, but the single-largest group earns between $25,000 and $50,000, city figures show. That 47 percent of people in that category own their homes is a testament to their drive to grab a piece of the American Dream.
A similar pattern is seen in Houston’s District 1 in Northeast Austin, where 49 percent of residents are homeowners, city figures show. It’s worth noting that 44 percent of residents with household incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 own their homes. Homeownership was significant even among those with incomes of less than $25,000, with 30 percent falling in that category.
In opposing the homestead exemption, Casar has said that it doesn’t help renters, who make up 70 percent of his North Austin District 4. Similarly, renters make up 74 percent of Renteria’s east-central Austin District 3.
No one can argue that they were not representing their constituents in opposing the expansion of the homestead exemption. But one can question their political savvy: They need four other votes to get measures passed that benefit their constituents. Engaging in ward-style politics by supporting only the things that benefit their respective districts will leave council members short in putting together the six votes needed to prevail in a 10-1 system.
Garza points out that, as written, the city’s homestead exemption gives the most benefit to the wealthy and the least to lower-income families. I get that. It’s a blunt tool, but the only one the state makes available to cities at this point. San Antonio, Dallas and Houston all offer a 20 percent homestead exemption.
City government should not expect Austin homeowners, who are struggling to pay mortgages, taxes, utilities and other expenses, to support a system that neglects them. In this city, homeowners largely have stepped up to challenges by supporting bonds and other measures for affordable housing, higher drainage fees to buy out flood victims, job training programs to lift wages of the underemployed and a myriad of services that aim to help people out of poverty.
Yes, there are rich homeowners. They will get the exemption. And then there are the rest of us, who are a paycheck, layoff or illness away from tumbling down an economic ladder that we’ve clawed our way up. We, too, get that exemption. Austin must continue expanding the homestead exemption — if for no other reason than to reinforce to homeowners that their interests count.