Watch: Where candidates running for Austin City Council District 1 stand on three big issues
The District 1 seat on Austin City Council, which encompasses Northeast Austin, is up for grabs this November.
Clinton Rarey, Melonie House-Dixon and Misael Ramos are challenging incumbent Natasha Harper-Madison. Three of the candidates sat down for a forum with KUT and the Austin Monitor on Monday. House-Dixon was unable to attend the forum. You can watch the forum above.
Here’s what the candidates had to say on three key policy areas they may focus on if elected to the City Council seat.
The responses have been edited lightly for brevity and clarity. Candidates are listed in the order they will appear on the ballot.
What do you think is the most important issue in your district?
Ramos: “For me, it's affordability and displacement. I believe that they go hand in hand when we're talking about affordable housing, but also displacement of folks who live here. You know, we're consistently seeing the numbers decrease for Black and Brown populations here in East Austin. A lot of that is due to, you know, unaffordable housing and also the skyrocketing rates for property taxes, etc. And so I'm really trying to push forth a way of actually having more diverse housing within D1, also using community land trusts to ensure that we have housing in perpetuity through the city and also coming up with programs and ways to keep people who helped build East Austin in their homes and in their communities as well.”
Rarey: “That’ll be public transportation and public safety. There's a lot of crime in District 1, and then there's lack of public transportation. An example is that I’m an hour- and 17-minute walk from my house to the closest bus stop, and I'm in the kitty corner of Northeast Austin of District 1. … I see a lot of people that do walk, that I give rides from time to time. Also not having paved sidewalks. We have sidewalks that just end, and then if you continue for about a mile to continue again, such as having actual access for pedestrian walkways as well, some people can get through the town on a bike. If there's no bike lane, then they have a sidewalk to actually ride on. So they're not in the middle of the street.”
Harper-Madison: “I think the most important issue that District 1 constituents have consistently brought to my office in the last nearly four years has to do with infrastructure. When I say that, I mean all things infrastructure. Literal infrastructure, from our sidewalks and our roads and our pipes and plumbing and our areas that have concentrated and localized flooding. Infrastructure also includes access to mobility, access to housing and access to workforce development, all of those things that have been overlooked and disinvested in District 1. It's entirely unfortunate that we are here, but where we are right now is a place where we're trying to retrofit an entire area of town which seems virtually impossible, which in my mind's eye, means we have to start at the foundation, which is the infrastructure.”
How would you seek to improve law enforcement morale, while also meeting constituent needs on police oversight?
Ramos: “I believe that there should be more transparency and accountability and oversight over the police as well. I definitely support the policy that was just recently kind of kicked down the road. Essentially, I think that we need more accountability with our policing. But at the same time, I think we also need to remember that there are still good police out there and folks that are actually wearing the badge to do good for us. You know, the folks behind the badge are human as well. We have to get back to a place where we're able to heal this relationship so that we can continue reimagining what policing could look like. Because essentially, we might get to a point where what we see as policing now or police officers, that might be an entirely different role. First, we have to work together to get there, and we need more transparency and accountability as well.”
Rarey: “Having police oversight is important. I know the police oversight program or policy that the Austin Justice Coalition and other non-government agencies are pushing is more of a control of how the police is run versus actual oversight, so I don’t support this police oversight program that was presented. But I do believe there needs to be more transparency on how officers that are having files complaint on how things are being addressed so the city's actually seeing them. And so having that committee have oversight of that, I would support. But not having control over how their policies or contract negotiations are done.”
Harper-Madison: “I think it's imperative that we recognize that we are asking for too much. I think to better reallocate funds, which was the point of the re-imagining of public safety in the first place, should go to supports that would help officers do their job, which is to keep the peace. They shouldn't have to act as social workers. They shouldn't have to act as counselors. They shouldn't have to act as mental health caseworkers. And all that said, if we can provide the systems that provide those services, those social safety nets, they can focus on the work that they're intended to do and offer themselves the opportunity to have a better quality of life by way of having a better professional experience.”
How would you address the increasing unaffordability of living in Austin?
Ramos: “I think that the way we really increase affordability is essentially, one, building more affordable housing, mainly targeted at that missing middle. So I would even go as low as 60% median income and lower, essentially like helping out folks like our teachers, our firefighters and even our police officers to be able to afford to live in Austin, specifically District 1. We talk about the community land trusts … working with nonprofit organizations and the city, we can essentially be able to build more affordable housing units similar to what we see in like the Muellers and whatnot, but actually make it and continue making it affordable for folks. From there, we can also look at potential rentals and rental options as well around the city.”
Rarey: “When it comes to unaffordability, we have to look at the root cause, and there are several factors that cause this unaffordability. One of them the city had no control over, and that was like investor companies coming in and buying up properties in bulk way above market value and the bidding wars. Look at our cost to build, we’re the second most expensive city behind Liberty Hill that only has a population of 5,000 people. So why are we so expensive to build compared to a small city like Liberty Hill? And the City Council just spending money like Monopoly money over like the last eight years with year over year property tax increases. And a lot of renters don't understand when they vote for all that stuff to raise property taxes, that cost gets passed on to them. And so being more accountable on how we're spending our money, so we have more of a balanced budget so we can lower property taxes, so we can drastically reduce our construction fees, so we have mom and pops that are able to compete against the big developers. And that way we have more abundant housing on the market. So we have a lower overall cost, and you're not having your evaluations go through the roof through bidding wars.”
Harper-Madison: “I think a lot of what's happening with the lack of affordability in the city of Austin has to do with what people make. Stagnant wages almost always are at the top of the list when it comes to lack of affordability. I think people need to be better trained. I think people need to be better paid. I also think folks need to be able to live closer to where they work. I also think folks need to be able to ditch their cars. So comprehensive housing, addressing our housing situation in a way that's comprehensive and broadly applied and also extending that consideration to mobility options and transit options. You can't separate the two. Child care is the other one I would mention. Not having access to child care is the impediment to so many people's ability to have a happy, successful and, frankly, financially feasible life. So access to child care, access to workforce, access to housing and access to transit.”