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Sister-Brother Runoff Candidates Have Dueling Views for the Future of District 3

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT
Candidates Susana Almanza and Sabino "Pio" Renteria at KUT's Ballot Boxing City Council candidate forum on Sept. 29.

District 3 runoff candidates Susana Almanza and Sabino "Pio" Renteria have a lot in common. They’re both Southeast Austin-based community activists, they’ve both pushed to expand affordable housing efforts in Austin and, strangely enough, they’re siblings.

While they both hope to boost affordable housing stock and develop the burgeoning district responsibly, they plan to go about it in a different way if elected to the Austin City Council.

Almanza and Renteria have both been activists for decades, and thought they knew their community well. One thing, however, has surprised Almanza during the campaign season: how diverse her district has become.

“As I knock on doors, I can really see the distinction. I can go to a very high poverty area and then I can go to the [sic] South Austin where everything is so beautiful and the lawns are all in shape,” Almanza says. “There's such a big difference.”

Almanza believes disparities shouldn't be so marked.

District 3 includes big portions of Central Austin. That's why it's so desirable, but that has come at a price and some people worry that affordability is the district's biggest challenge. Almanza believes that, if elected to city council, she could work on converting city properties into affordable housing units.

“The city owns thousands of properties that are sitting there idle. The city can even donate [the land] to non-profits for a dollar,” she says. “What's really the most expensive point for non-profits is the purchase of the land.”

Sabino "Pio" Renteria is also worried about gentrification, but he believes involving county and state government would be a better solution. He wants to work out a deal where some of the extra tax revenue generated from higher property taxes is given back to the community. A quarter of that will get reinvested into affordable housing, he says.

District 3 is a majority-minority district. Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and other ethnic groups represent about 73 percent of the district. But Renteria fears the current housing trends will push many of these people out.

“We need to look at ways to recognize and develop more funding for affordable housing,” Renteria says. “If we don't do it, we are going to be segregated again.”

As siblings, Almanza and Renteria grew up in the district, and as part of their upbringing they both embraced social causes.
But Renteria says his approach diverges from his sister’s.

“I believe that we need to work with our police department to promote community policing,” he says. “I believe we need to have a planning team – a neighborhood planning team – so that our neighborhood can be in charge of the development and the growth of our community.”

It’s been a little touchy to have a sister and brother running against each other, but both Almanza and Renteria say they hold no hard feelings. Their only hope is that voters don't get turned off by any negativity and come out to the polls.

Both candidates sat down with KUT's Joy Diaz to talk about Austin's first election under the 10-1 system and their strategies on the runoff campaign trail so far.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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