FACT CHECK: Austin Mayor Steve Adler's State Of The City Address
In his annual State of the City address Monday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler touched on the increasing number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the Austin area, plus homelessness, policing and transportation issues.
KUT reporters fact-checked some of the more notable comments he made.
On housing and affordability
Adler: "Because we have such a strong economy, the Austin City Council was able to lower the city portion of the typical homeowner’s property tax bill (for only the second time in recent memory) by doubling the homestead exemption and dramatically increasing exemptions for seniors and those with disabilities."
KUT: Adler's not wrong, but it's worth contextualizing his comments. The city estimates that someone owning a home worth $400,000 will save $17 on their annual city property bill. But any savings depends on how the value of your home increased in the past year. (And it likely increased a lot).
Adler: "Austin has one of the lowest pandemic eviction rates among U.S. cities in part because of orders from me and the county judge, as well as the actions of the City Council and the Commissioners Court and over $50 million in federal rental assistance we have been able to get to tenants and landlords — efforts that have kept people in their homes."
KUT: According to Eviction Lab, Austin’s eviction rate is lower than the national average. But Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown have begun loosening eviction protections; starting Wednesday, landlords will be able to file evictions against renters who owe more than 3 months of rent and have exhausted all rent help.
Adler: "Many in the community, including the City Council, have adopted the goal of housing 3,000 people chronically experiencing homelessness in the next three years and are doing the work to get this done."
KUT: This is true. But the coalition of business groups, service providers and the city did not meet its initial benchmark to house 100 people by June. While the city has opened up additional temporary shelter since then, it’s unclear whether the coalition will meet its goal to house 200 people by the end of August.
Adler: "Even if we could find an acceptable location for sanctioned camp areas for over 1,000 people, we have learned hard lessons from other cities."
KUT: Adler's not wrong, but it's worth providing additional context. Austin City Council members in May proposed building out city-sanctioned encampments. City staff came back with an initial list that included parkland and other city property. Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison and other Black leaders in East Austin argued the list was hastily drafted and didn’t consider the legacy of racist city policies that unfairly impacted East Side residents. City staff previously advised against public encampments in 2019.
Adler: "Completion of the city-wide 'all ages and abilities' bicycle network is well ahead of schedule."
KUT: This is half true. The City Council initially set a goal for the bicycle network to be half completed by 2020. After running behind schedule, the goal was revised to reach half completion by summer 2021. That was reached on time on June 19, not ahead of schedule.
Adler: "Even while designs are being debated, monies have been designated for a multibillion-dollar IH-35 project that should lower the freeway and stitch back together the east and west while providing transit lanes to encourage people to get out of their daily auto commutes."
KUT: This is half true. Money has been set aside to lower and expand the freeway. But when it comes to the so-called "stitches" — wide bridges that include amenities for cyclists and pedestrians — the Texas Department of Transportation has said it will not pay to build these.
Adler: "We’re well on our way to a new mass public transit system with subway rail downtown, a tunnel underneath Lake Austin, and crossing it, soon a new pedestrian/transit-only bridge. A preliminary complete system design is now being brought to the community for comment and input."
KUT: This is true. You can read more about the plan here.
Adler: "Even one life lost is too many. And Austin has seen a significant increase in the number of murders this year versus last year."
KUT: Adler is correct. According to the Austin Police Department, there have been 52 murders in the city thus far this year, compared to 45 in all of 2020. Take our quiz to test your knowledge on crime and policing in Austin.
Adler: "A piece of misinformation that I believe is particularly harmful and personally offensive, is the suggestion that the Austin City Council does not respect or support our police force. Associated with this misinformation is the claim that the Council defunded and took $150 million, or a third of the police budget, away from the police functions to which it was being put. None of this is true."
KUT: Adler is right. While the council cut about $150 million from the police budget last year, only about $20 million of that was spent on non-police work, such as the city's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rest of the money was either put in a transitionary fund that never got reallocated or paid for a division that was moved out from under police oversight.
This year, the council refunded and increased the budget for police, following the passage of a state law that would have financially punished the city if it did not.
Clarifications: This story has been updated to clarify that landlords can begin evicting tenants on Sept. 1 if they owe more than three months of rent.
This story has been updated to change from false to half true the mayor's claim that the city's bicycle network is ahead of schedule. The city moved the initial deadline, because it was running behind.